Christmas is a time for tradition. I have many traditions when it comes to Christmas – I’ve hung up the same stocking that I was given as an infant; I usually hang up the Chhistmas decorations the weekend after Thanksgiving.
One of my favorite hobbies is reading. No surprise there. And the week after Christmas my tradition is to read Christmas stories. Three in particular. I start off with Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” – that takes only about a day or so. I’ve been reading “A Christmas Carol” every year for over a decade now. Although now with a little one taking up most of my time I usually don’t finish it until after Thanksgiving weekend. The next several days is spent reading L. Frank Baum’s “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus”. I started that tradition in 2006. And in the last four years I finished off by reading JRR Tolien’s “Letters from Father Christmas” – this book has been published in many titles variations, your copy may have a different title. This takes me through to the next weekend. Next I may read a horror or science fiction anthology of Christmas-themed stories. Most aren’t very good – or at least if the story is good the theme of Christmas is incidental. It could take place on Valentine’s Day and not change the essense of the story.
For Christmas-themed blogs I will discuss each of my three traditional Christmas books.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL.
This was from a blog I wrote/published on December 2nd, 2012:
The plot is … well, if you don’t know, stop reading right now.
The story behind the story is almost as interesting. (taken liberally from Wikipedia, but I did check the facts …) Dickens was concerned about the plight of poor children. In early 1843, he toured a tin mine where children worked. The conditions of theFieldLaneRaggedSchool he visited that year were equally appalling to him. In February 1843 a parliamentary report exposed the effects of the Industrial Revolution upon poor children; it was called Second Report of the Children’s Employment Commission. Dickens planned to publish an inexpensive political pamphlet tentatively titled, “An Appeal to the People of England, on behalf of the Poor Man’s Child” in May of that year but changed his mind, deferring the pamphlet’s production until the end of the year.
In a fund-raising speech on 5 October 1843 at the Manchester Athenæum (a charitable institution serving the poor), Dickens urged workers and employers to join together to combat ignorance with educational reform, and realized in the days following that the most effective way to reach the broadest segment of the population with his social concerns about poverty and injustice was to write a deeply-felt Christmas narrative rather than polemical pamphlets and essays. It was during his three days in Manchester, he conceived the plot of Carol.
Dickens had already written a tale of Christmas redemption as part of “The Pickwick Papers” in 1837; Gabriel Grub was a lonely and mean-spirited sexton, who undergoes a Christmas conversion after being visited by goblins who show him the past and future.
Although Dickens made little money from it at first, it was an immediate success – stage productions and readings (some by Dickens himself) developed quickly. The first was February 1844 (it was published two months earlier). It has since become as much a holiday classic as “A Visit from St. Nicholas”.
It has been called an indictment of 19th-century industrial capitalism and Scrooge’s redemption underscores the conservative, individualistic, and patriarchal aspects of Dickens’s ‘Carol philosophy’, which propounded the idea of a more fortunate individual willingly looking after a less fortunate one. Personal moral conscience and individual action led in effect to a form of “noblesse oblige” which was expected of those individuals of means. I knew I liked the story for some reason…
This idea would make some In this politically-charged atmosphere faint dead away. “Use our means to help the poor!? Why on earth would we want to do that?” Because Jesus told you to. And as of 1843, so does Charles Dickens.
The current state of observance of Christmas is largely the result of a mid-Victorian revival of the holiday spearheaded by A Christmas Carol. Hutton argues that Dickens sought to construct Christmas as a self-centred festival of generosity, in contrast to the community-based and church-centered observations, the observance of which had dwindled during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In superimposing his secular vision of the holiday, Dickens influenced many aspects of Christmas that are celebrated today in Western culture, such as family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, games, and a festive generosity of spirit.
This simple morality tale with its pathos and theme of redemption significantly redefined the “spirit” and importance of Christmas, since, as Margaret Oliphant recalled, it “moved us all those days ago as if it had been a new gospel.” and resurrected a form of seasonal merriment that had been suppressed by the Puritan quelling of Yuletide pageantry in 17th-century England.
I enjoy reading through the small bits and pieces you usually do not see during the films and plays – the many religious references for one (other than Tiny Tim’s hoping his being in church would remind others of who made lame men walk, etc.). “Carol” has turned into a secular Christmas tale, but I was surprised how many references to the birth of Christ, the visit of the Wise Men, and so forth, are peppered – lightly, but still peppered – throughout the story. I also enjoy Scrooge’s political debate with the Ghost of Christmas Present. Scrooge is thoroughly back-handed by the ghost, who all but says Scrooge is no Jack Kennedy.
This was a nice bit taken from IMDB about the 1938 movie. It’s a good description of Scrooge: The word “humbug” is misunderstood by many people, which is a pity since the word provides a key insight into Scrooge’s hatred of Christmas. The word “humbug” describes deceitful efforts to fool people by pretending to a fake loftiness or false sincerity. So when Scrooge calls Christmas a humbug, he is claiming that people only pretend to charity and kindness in an scoundrel effort to delude him, each other, and themselves. In Scrooge’s eyes, he is the one man honest enough to admit that no one really cares about anyone else, so for him, every wish for a Merry Christmas is one more deceitful effort to fool him and take advantage of him. This is a man who has turned to profit because he honestly believes everyone else will someday betray him or abandon him the moment he trusts them.
I then blogged reviews of various “Carol” adaptations. Just type “Christmas” on my page’s search engine to read through them. In those blogs I included questions I had while reading the book and watching the various adaptations; I have copied and rearranged those questions here. They would make good discussion topics for a reading club…
Dickens says that Bob Cratchet had only met Scrooge’s nephew once (this was in Stave Four in the future: “Mr. Scrooge’s nephew, whom he had scarcely seen but once” – an odd way of putting it if they had met more often than once). This was when Fred visited Scrooge at his counting house and invited him to Christmas dinner.
This, then, is the first time Fred had come to Scrooge’s counting house for any reason, let alone to invite him to his party (Stave Three says he WILL go by year after year but not necessarily HAS in the past. In “The End of It” Scrooge wishes Cratchet a Merrier Christmas “than I have given you, for many a year.” So Bob had worked for Scrooge several years – thus this was Fred’s first visit to his uncle to invite him to Christmas dinner – at his office. Fred may have visited Scrooge’s home – he talks about Scrooge not even making himself comfortable with his money. Can you imagine Scrooge’s reaction to Fred visiting his home!?
What would Scrooge’s reaction had been if it were August and Fred invited him to church instead of a Christmas party? Would he have still called it a “humbug”? Would he consider church an excuse for picking a man’s pocket every week? He attended a church service on Christmas morning after his conversion, but would he have been so vitriolic to Fred’s invitation?
As a boy Scrooge attended an isolated boarding school in which characters in books come to life and illustrations move about independently. My god in heaven, he went to Hogwarts!
Whither Dick Wilkins? Scrooges’ fellow apprentice who liked Scrooge very much. Is he still alive? In business for himself? Has he ever visited the man who thinks him his best friend? How would Scrooge react of Dick, instead of Fred invited him to Christmas dinner? Would Scrooge have been so curt or glad to see him (glad for Scrooge that is)?
Note how Belle, when asked by her husband to guess who he saw, immediately says “Ebenezer Scrooge”? How often does she think of him? How many times does her husband walk past his office? Does she still have strong feelings for him? Is her husband stalking Scrooge? Does he bring up his wretched state often as a way of showing her she made the correct choice? What kind of control freak did she marry?
Except for the Ghost of Christmas Present, neither of the other Ghosts show Scrooge any events of Christmas Day itself. They should be called the Ghost of Christmastime Past and Yet-To-Come. Ghost of Christmas(time) Past shows Fezziwig’s Christmas Eve party, and the novel does not specifically say the date when Fen visited Scrooge at the Boarding School or the day he broke up with Belle.
As for the Christmas Yet to Come; if all that happened on Christmas Day itself, that Christmas of 1844 was particular busy – Tim Cratchet died, Bob Cratchet bought a plot of land, Scrooge died, the news of his death made it to the Exchange (which was open), his tombstone was prepared, his belongings were looted and sold at Old Joe’s (Old Joe being “open” Christmas Day was probably the one thing most realistically “open” that day…). As with Past, the events of Yet-To-Come were most likely events close to Christmas Day, without being on the day itself.
If the Ghost of Christmas Past only lived during Christmas Day, and he supposedly visited Scrooge “the next night at the same hour”. That would have been 1:00 am December 26th – wouldn’t he have been dead for an hour by this time (of course a ghost cannot be dead, by that I mean he no longer existed… )? If Marley visited Scrooge after midnight (and the second stave seems to imply), then the Ghost of Christmas Present may have visited Scrooge on December 27th– and would have been dead for the prior 25 hours.
So what exactly was wrong with Tiny Tim? Here’s a great site with a logical explanation: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22359312/ns/health-health_care/t/what-was-ailing-tiny-tim/#.UMjDxdsYpwQ
At Fred’s party, they played a guessing game called “Yes and No”. Fred thought of a thing and they had to guess with yes-or-no questions what that thing was: it was a savage animal that growled and grunted and lived in London. Someone asked if it were a horse. Were the streets of Victorian London stalked by savage, growling horses?
How much do you think Scrooge donated to the solicitors that Christmas morning? In George C. Scott’s Carol movie, it is obvious they are mouthing “a thousand pounds” that would more than likely have been just over $150,000 US. Back payments indeed!
So whatever happened to Tiny Tim. I have a theory; stay with me here.
Despite his salvation, Scrooge likely had about ten years left to live. During that time, his financial support nursed Tim to health. Tim’s gentle nature and history led him to wish to work with children or even aspire to be a physician. His second father would have encouraged it.
Unfortunately, when Scrooge died, all his estate would have gone to Fred. Scrooge would have made some provision for the Cratchets, which makes sense. But Bob isn’t known for his financial acuity. Likely by the time Tim comes of age the money is long gone to establish Peter and provide dowries for his sisters.
Tim takes his fate with stoic grace and takes a job at a local clerk or shopkeeper.
By the 1870s Tim will have lost his parents. The charitable giving of Fred has likely stopped – he supported the Cratchets but now it is their descendents and extended family. Fred helps when asked, but not to his detriment. Fred has a kind soul, but money only goes so far. Tim hears that a lot lately, especially from Peter and his brothers-in-law.
Tim is alone. He remains unmarried – potential brides are put off by his poverty and his physical condition. Although cured, he still walks with a cane and his hand is still withered. The local east-end streetwalkers have sympathy on his sweet nature and offer him solace. “I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome I took some comfort there.”
That is how he caught syphilis.
Tim was nearly fifty when the last stages of the STD rampaged through his system – a system still weak from the malady of his youth. Like his second father, a cold bitterness set in. Added to his coldness came the mental imbalance from the STD.
At least Scrooge had the solace of being a “good man of business” and sat on a sufficient, albeit unused, accumulation of wealth. Tim had no such solace. His financial future was taken by his many sisters four decades ago, just as his health was taken by fallen women. What does his Bible, his only refuge, say? “…the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house; thus you shall purge the evil from among you.”
His father’s house is gone. His second father’s house is gone. All that are left are the harlots…
Purge the evil, he thinks, yes, they must die. This is why in the late 1880s, Tiny Tim, his senses marred and warped by his bitterness and disease, committed some of the most heinous crimes still reviewed and examined to this day.
Thus, it is my belief that Tim Cratchet was, in fact, Jack the Ripper.
The book is in the public domain and the text is available online, just google “Christmas Carol full text” and you will find it in many places. It is good practice for people not used to ebooks. Then you can purchase one of my three books available online (crass commercialism is also a Christmas tradition!):
Abby’s Road, the Long & Winding Road to Adoption and how Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped;
Toddler TV: A Befuddled Father’s Guide to What the Kid is Watching; and
The Brave & the Bold: From Silent Knight to Dark Knight, an index to the DC comic book.
Original material copyright 2014 Michael Curry