This post was originally released at Midnight on Christmas Day. As we observe the Twelve Days of Christmas, this post–here re-released under a new title: “The Silent Partner”–takes the place of the regularly scheduled Thursday post. Our regularly scheduled Thursday posts will resume on Thursday, January 10, 2013.
“There’ll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow
There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories of
Christmases long, long ago”
I’m with the “parties for hosting”, the toasting of marshmallows, and the caroling out in the snow–those resonate as ways we celebrate the Christmas Season–but “scary ghost stories”? Here, a bit of background would be helpful. The ways that we celebrate the Christmas Season in America are, relatively speaking, fairly recent. We owe no small debt to the “Dickensian” Christmas as captured by Charles Dickens in his A Christmas Carol. And what A Christmas Carol is, is a ghost story. Written for a Victorian audience this was only natural: the Victorians loved ghost stories.
Of the many reasons to love the Christmas Carol, besides its playing no small part in how we celebrate Christmas, is the way it takes us into the heart of a man. There’s Scrooge as we know him (bitter, cold, inhuman, avaricious [i.e. miserly]) and then there’s why Scrooge is the way he is: the abandoned Ebenezer, exiled by his father during Christmastime long, long ago blamed–as he was–by his father for the death of his mother who died giving birth to Ebenezer; the man who would have, could have, loved but who–handicapped by an immensely sad past–chooses to give it all up in a pursuit of wealth and acquisition. There’s the embittered, hardened Scrooge (on the surface) and then there’s the broken heart beneath and behind it all.
We also discover in Scrooge’s past a character that acts as a kind of foil to the character of Scrooge (and I’m using the term character also in the quite literal sense of the interior qualities of a man). Ever since watching a live performance in grammar school of A Christmas Carol at the Civic Theater, I’ve been enthralled by Fezziwig (the merchant under whom Ebenezer apprenticed), whom–on Christmas Eve–closes up shop early and throws a party for family, friends, and employees alike. There’s live music, food, dancing, and laughter. It’s Fezziwig’s joie de vivre, his exuding a “joy of living” that is so enthralling. There’s the covetousness of Scrooge, on the one hand, and then the generosity of Fezziwig on the other. Both men had money but only one, at least originally, had a heart to overflowing. One gets the sense that the source of Fezziwig’s material blessings was a generous heart, an enlarged heart (I think here, also, of what would become of The Grinch by that tale’s end).
It’s the freedom of Scrooge in the final scenes from A Christmas Carol that we love and celebrate so much. He, like Fezziwig before him, learns to live from an enlarged heart, animated by joy. But, consider this: it was only through the active intervention of his old friend and business partner, Marley, that Scrooge is given this second lease on life. Marley comes to Scrooge in the opening scenes, disembodied and bound in chains, to announce the visit of three ghosts. But does anyone doubt that by the Carol‘s end another man has gone free?
May these thoughts bring you tidings of comfort…and joy!