This post is an excerpt from my book, I Hate Christmas! How to Identify and Overcome Your Inner Christmas Villain. This is the second of the 4 parts of the book, which will be published here online to help you prepare for Christmas this year. If you’d like to get the whole book, you can get it as an ebook from Amazon here.
Ebeneezer Scrooge, The Fearful
“What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”
It is hard to have not heard the story of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It has been a staple of Christmas celebrations almost since it was written. It is the origination of not only “Bah, Humbug” but also the phrase “Merry Christmas.”
With the classic status of the story, its villain and hero Ebenezer Scrooge entered our everyday language. A “Scrooge” became a harsh nickname and insult for anyone miserly. You can hear the name muttered all year round, for the legacy of Scrooge has reached far beyond the holiday season.
Scrooge gets a bad rap for being selfish, but that characterization rightly belongs to a more simple, greedy character such as Mr. Potter from It’s A Wonderful Life. Where does it say Scrooge was rich anyway? Wealth is implied in many adaptations of the story, but the original work casts Scrooge as a working-class business owner, not necessarily having amassed a fortune or being well-off. Fear is anxious anticipation of loss, and Scrooge fears the world – and poverty – to the point of being ungenerous even to himself. He does not necessarily have much, but he fears the loss of it.
When A Christmas Carol was published, on the 19th of December, 1843, Charles Dickens’s wife was expecting their 5th child, and the book was intended to be a “pot-boiler,” a book written for the sake of generating funds quickly. There is a possibility that Dickens, like Theo Geisel, wrote his Christmas story with a bit of self-chastisement in mind while troubled by financial pressures that Christmas season.
Scrooge’s partner, Jacob Marley, appears with a myriad of other phantoms with the first warning. Their torment, it is explained, is to wander the earth able to witness the suffering of their fellow man, but unable in death to do anything. The time for action is only in life.
Scrooge is then visited, as most of us all know, by specters of his past, the present world to which he had turned a blind eye, and then to the future, after he is gone and only his legacy is left. I will not lengthen this little book by retelling in detail a tale told so often, and told so well and briefly by the original author, except to summarize that Scrooge’s redemption was achieved in the past, fanned into passion in the present, and finally sealed with new fear in the future.
Cold and hard as he is, the sights, smells, and sounds of his past move Scrooge to pity at the sight of his own lonely childhood. His heart breaks again at the parting of Belle, who bluntly points out that he fears the world too much as she walks out of his life. His fear left him unable to act to save the relationship, and a stubborn yet wiser Scrooge realizes that his fear caused an even greater loss.
“You fear the world too much,” she answered, gently. “All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses you.”
The visit of the Ghost of Christmas Present echoes the theme of social justice that Dickens campaigned. Building on Marley’s initial visit, the Ghost shows Scrooge joy, even in poverty, which comes from generosity.
Through the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Dickens makes no appeal to a fear of God, but instead appeals to a fear of the legacy left behind. Scrooge recoils as he witnesses a couple gladdened by his death, the businessmen he esteemed referring to “Old Scratch” getting his own, the grave-robbers giddy with finally receiving something from him, even if only in death. Only in death does Scrooge give joy to others.
His fear of the world is finally and eventually replaced with a fear of a cold and hated future, but only after he confronts his lonely and heart-rending mistakes of the past and witnessing the joyous opportunities he was forsaking in his misguided miserly misery.
The character of Scrooge is most greatly contrasted by that of his “foolish” nephew, Fred. Fred’s generosity, which according to Scrooge he cannot afford, is persistent. Fred does not merely invite his uncle to Christmas dinner (which one can safely assume was rejected in earlier years) but does not take the first no, or even the first insult, as an answer. While few of us may be as miserly as Scrooge, how few of us are as persistently generous as Fred!
Are you afraid of overdoing it at Christmas? Do you find yourself fretting of the time and expense of the season? If worry and anxiety mark your Christmas celebration, then Scrooge is likely your personal Christmas villain.
Scrooge reminds us that you don’t have to be rich to be a miser. It is so incredibly easy for earthly cares, especially money, to consume us. It even seems at times that our culture seems to like the old Scrooge better; there are numerous articles published over the years defending the old, unreformed Scrooge. This is fear of the world, and it goes hand in hand with an assumption of tremendous personal responsibility for your material welfare.
This attitude could not be more opposite from the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas. In the sermon on the mount alone (Matthew 5-7) there are statements such as:
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
Also consider the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) and the rebuke of one who has achieved success in his worldly endeavors. The Christmas Child went to a great extent to counsel us against fear of the world and material concerns. Certainly He does not want such cares to plague you as you celebrate His birth!
Soothing the Inner Scrooge
If you find yourself facing an inner Scrooge each year, recall that in A Christmas Carol the best examples of generosity are those demonstrated to family and friends. You need not dispose of your possessions to strangers, but at the very least we owe it to our families, friends, co-workers and business associates the time and the expression of hope. Charity truly begins at home.
Christians (who I may remind you are the ones that are supposed to be celebrating the Christmas season) have not offered sacrifices of animals since Christ’s time on earth. Yet we can still make sacrifices to bring earthly joy to others, especially those close to us. Put it this way: a little time to enjoy the company of others or give gifts, or share a feast, is quite small compared to offering a blood sacrifice of a cow or sheep. However it is far more pleasing to God, and far more fitting for a celebration of His birth as a human child.
The story of A Christmas Carol has been hacked almost to death by its many adaptations for movie and TV screens, some literally including song and dance routines. I would suggest re-reading the original if you find yourself staring Scrooge in the mirror. More than any other Christmas villain named in this book, the original tale of the redemption of Scrooge contains the counsel to those who share his illness.
Remember why you are celebrating Christmas in the first place, and for the sake of everyone around you, and yourself, relax and trust that the generous God who gave his own Son for our salvation will take care of your daily needs. To that end, re-reading the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is a good section of the Gospel to add to your Christmas celebration.
Playlist Suggestions: Early in A Christmas Carol, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is sung to Scrooge by the boy in the street. It’s actually a very appropriate song for those struggling with Scrooge within.