“‘Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ‘Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!'” (Dickens 38).
Some stories never get old, they just get more profound. At least, that’s been my experience with Charles Dickens’s classic novel, A Christmas Carol. When I was younger, it was easy to look at the grumpy old miser with a critical eye. I could dissociate from the self-interest and apathy that govern his life. As I grow older, however, I find myself carrying more sympathy in my heart for Ebenezer Scrooge. Maybe it’s because I’ve come to appreciate the fact that we all have a bit of Scrooge in us, especially around Christmas time.
Whether it comes to counting our money or our time, the Christmas season can easily fill up with business of a sort that has little to do with the holiday itself. When my list of “to-dos” keeps growing longer and my patience shorter, I know it’s time to revisit my priorities. The clock chimes in my brain begin to sound and the ghostly thoughts of Christmases past, present, and future come to visit.
After all of these years, you’d think I’d have learned my lesson by now. And yet, each Yuletide I find myself in need of re-education. I find myself grumbling or complaining about some aspect of the holiday and the different things I have to do in order to prepare for it. I might not see Marley’s face in the door knocker, but I do begin to see Scrooge’s face in the mirror. This is when I return to Dickens’s classroom.
Reading Marley’s words to Scrooge, I begin to speak them to myself. I remind myself that charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence are the things that truly count in life. Busyness will steal my past, present, and future of these gifts if I let it mess up my priorities. When it comes to Christmas, spreading love, joy, hope, and peace is the business that matters most. It is my greatest priority as a human being.
I think the main reason Dickens’s story continues to have enduring appeal for me and many others is that it speaks of redemption and grace. Mankind is in the business of making mistakes, but we are also in the business of forgiving each other for them. The nightmares we navigate teach us the power of new beginnings. Christmas gives us the promise of a fresh start.
So, if you, like me, are finding yourself in need of more than one fresh start this Christmas season, remember that Dickens’s story is a carol we can sing all year round. Our mistakes are invitations to start anew and to accept the gifts of grace and kindness offered to us by our fellow human beings. May we grow better at accepting these invitations and offering them to others.
If I am going to see any aspect of Scrooge’s face when I look in the mirror, I hope it is the joyful spirit of these words:
“I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy, I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!” (Dickens 146).
Wow. Grace sure has a beautiful effect, doesn’t it?
Merry Christmas Everybody.
May God bless you all this holiday season. Each and everyone.
Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. 1843. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.