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Tis the Season

Tis the season, to welcome Scrooge into your home. This is the man Dickens described as a “…a tightfisted hand at the grindstone, a squeezing, wrenching grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner. Hard and sharp as flint from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” A man who…”carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.”

Contemporary writers are discouraged from writing full-blown descriptions like this one of Ebenezer Scrooge. Rather, we are encouraged to reveal our protagonist through action and dialog. Dickens didn’t have time for this. He wanted his readers to know up front and unequivocally that Scrooge was a nasty piece of business. To quote the author, “…this must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story…”

Reading on, we see this fellow Scrooge as a man who prizes wealth, but is too cheap to enjoy its fruits, who shuns the hospitality of his only nephew, and threatens his clerk with dismissal should he add a bit of coal to the fire, and we understand why he is alone in his dank and chilly chambers on Christmas Eve. It is there, sitting by his small fire, that Scrooge hears the rattling of chains announcing the arrival of his long dead partner, Jacob Marley. Scrooge will be haunted by Three Spirits, Jacob tells him, his only chance to escape the misery he himself has suffered these past seven years.

The Ghost of Christmas Past introduces us to a motherless boy left alone during the holidays in his crumbling boarding school, an apprentice who enjoyed the generosity of his master, but was unable to practice generosity himself, and a young man who traded the affections of his true love for the love of money. The Ghost of Christmas Present celebrates the season by taking Scrooge into the home of his impoverished clerk where, despite the meagerness of the feast, he finds a family abundant in humor, mutual respect, and love. These lessons are working in Scrooge when he meets the final ghost and his bleak and lonely end is revealed to him.

As we travel with the three ghosts, Scrooge’s sad history is revealed to us arousing our empathy and compassion. Trauma was not a word used by Victorian writers to describe the hardships of childhood, but Dickens knew from his own experience — his removal from school, the degrading work in the blacking factory, his family’s incarceration in debtors’ prison — how early trauma can take root and shape our lives.

Why do people all over the world open their homes during the holiday season to this crusty old skinflint? Because every year Scrooge reminds us that no matter how damaged or angry or selfish we are, there is always the possibility of redemption, though not, perhaps, through the auspices of three ghosts. If we learn to open our hearts to others, practice generosity, and pursue our passions we, too, might heal the troubled child within.

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