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Commentary: Caroling with friends, family and Mr. Dickens

POSTED: December 4, 2011 12:30 a.m.

Tack Cornelius

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For anyone reading this column and yearning for another special and thoughtful evening this Christmas season, you might consider doing this: Invite a handful of family and friends over and read "A Christmas Carol" aloud.

"Bah!" you might say. "Humbug. Read the whole book aloud?"

Most certainly! Dickens' tale of redemption can be read in a short evening, 3 1/2 hours, even with a break for appetizers. And reading it aloud with your friends lets us hear the story as Dickens' wrote it: as a Christmas carol.

Pass the book around, take turns reading, share Dickens' music among yourselves.

In the printed word, Dickens' characterizations let us see Scrooge in a different light than in a movie: Scrooge was "... self contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose. ... He 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."

Scrooge spurned people all the year long. Holidays were no exception; he despised Christmas and its traditions.

Merry Christmas? The greeting drew Scrooge's best known line: "Bah! Humbug!"

A day off for Christmas for his clerk, Bob Cratchit, was, in Scrooge's eyes, "a poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December."

What about giving out of his great wealth to feed a hungry child during the Christmas season? Fat chance!

Late Christmas Eve, Scrooge's nephew, Fred, by chance let into his Uncle's counting house two gentlemen putting together "... some slight provision for the poor and destitute who suffer greatly at the present time." Scrooge's response: "Are there no prisons ... are there no Union workhouses?"

The two men informed him that many would rather die than be confined to such grim institutions. Scrooge brutishly fires back: "If they would rather die, they had better do it and decrease the surplus population."

Another telling sketch from the counting house: "Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk's fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one coal. But he couldn't replenish it, for Scrooge kept the coal box in his own room; and so surely as the clerk came in with the shovel, the master predicted that it would be necessary for them to part."

Those familiar with "A Christmas Carol" know that the story hangs on what Jacob Marley's Ghost relates to Scrooge.

Marley says the spirit within every man is required to walk among his fellow man, and if it does not go "forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. ... I wear the chain I forged in life ... My spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our money changing hole; and weary journeys lie before me."

Scrooge learns that Marley has traveled the whole time since he died seven years ago: "No rest, no peace. Incessant torture of remorse," the ghost says.

Marley suffers most at Christmas. He realizes all the good he might have done on earth but never did. "... any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. ... no space of regret can make amends for one life's opportunities misused. Yet such was I ...

"Why did I walk through crowds of fellow beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode? Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me?"

But Marley tells Scrooge he has a chance to avoid the fate that is Marley's: Scrooge will be haunted by Three Spirits.

Scrooge says he rather not. Marley tells him the Spirits are his only hope.

And therein is the story: Scrooge traveling with the Spirits, Past, Present and Future, seeing all the people and situations required for the tale to work its higher redemptive purposes — from himself in earlier and later incarnations, to his friends at his first school, to the woman he would have married but for his greed, to Tiny Tim and the other Cratchits, to all the others, including that dark and mysterious phantom, Death.

Scrooge, we all know, was a man redeemed, a man transformed after his travels in time (and Tiny Tim did not die). Scrooge gives Bob Cratchit a raise; he keeps Christmas in his heart; he takes joy in life.

Reading "A Christmas Carol" once more with friends allows us to relish the details again - enjoying the carol, and Charles Dickens, and recalling our own Christmases, past and present.

Tack Cornelius is a writer and occasional columnist who lives in Gainesville and is a member of Pine Crest Baptist Church.


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