Dickens’ A Christmas Carol tells of Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly and miserable penny-pinching malcontent if ever there was one. His is a life of exploitation and intimidation. He’s particularly down on Christmas: “A time for finding yourself a year older, and not an hour richer,” he says. Scrooge is visited on Christmas Eve by the ghost of his deceased partner, Jacob Marley. The suffering Marley hopes to help Scrooge to avoid his own miserable fate. Three spirits are introduced into the plot — the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. These ghosts succeed in showing Scrooge the error of his ways. Christmas morning finds Scrooge sending a fat turkey to the family of his long-suffering clerk Bob Cratchit. As the story develops, Bob’s crippled son, Tiny Tim, and others, are also benefited. Scrooge turns out to be an okay guy.
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was one of the most popular writers of all time. During the social upheaval of the Industrial Revolution, more than any other novelist he helped bring about change. Honoured everywhere, his writings and public performances focused on the social evils of poverty, child labour, orphans, greed, pomposity, misguided religiosity and selfishness. Perennially in a state of research, Dickens walked endlessly in the backstreets of London, observing life and circumstance — the raw material of his stories. Through ups and downs of fortune, ten children, and a less than satisfactory marriage, he systematically wrote 2000 words a day, cut deals, spoke in public, published, socialized brilliantly and produced and acted in plays. Famous by age 24 for the light-hearted “Pickwick Papers,” Dickens’ mission matured and grew throughout his life.
In A Christmas Carol the message is clear. If a miserable miser such as Ebenezer Scrooge can remake himself into a nice guy, then anything is possible. My grandfather frequently quoted Dickens. His home was filled with figurines of Dickens’ characters. Dickens’ ideas permeate our family. For my part I’ve always thought that leopards might change their spots, pigs might fly, and Certified General Accountants might become outstanding painters.
PS: “Nearer and closer to our hearts be the Christmas spirit, which is the spirit of active usefulness, perseverance, cheerful discharge of duty, kindness and forbearance.” (Charles Dickens)
Esoterica: A Christmas Carol has spawned over 100 films and documentaries, as well as thousands of books. “Transforming Scrooge,” by Joseph Cusumano, explores Dickens’ blueprint for a spiritual re-awakening. The Scrooge within, Scrooge’s wounded inner child, Scrooge’s ghosts as metaphor for change, Scrooge’s dysfunctional chakras, and other enlightenments, squeeze yet more meaning from the Christmas classic. “God bless us every one.” (TT)
A Christmas Carol :: original illustrations by John Leech (1809-1870)
A Dickensian Christmas
by Jo DuNord, Minnesota, USA
Here is one of my favorite writings of Dickens and Christmas: “That person must be a misanthrope indeed, in whose breast something like a jovial feeling is not raised–in whose mind some pleasant associations are not awakened. Draw your chair nearer the blazing fire–fill your glass and send round the song–if your room be smaller than it was a dozen years ago, or if your glass be filled with reeking punch instead of sparkling wine, put a good face on the matter, and empty it offhand, and fill another, and troll off the old ditty you used to sing, and thank God it’s no worse!” (Charles Dickens, Christmas Festivities, 1835)
by Andrea Pratt
Tonight I finished reading Dickens’ Great Expectations and, as is my wont, I then read the introduction, written for this edition by John Irving. There was a line there that made me think he’d just read your last two letters, one about the great author and the previous one about retaining a creative high: “Like many successful people he made good use of disappointments — responding to them with energy, with near-frenzied activity, rather than needing to recover from them.” That’s what I call role modeling at its finest.
Ignorance and Want
by George Sellars, UK
A Christmas Carol was rooted in Dickens’ observations of the plight of the children of London’s poor. It has been said of the times that sex was the only affordable pleasure for the poor; the result was thousands of children living in unimaginable poverty, filth, and disease. In 1839 it was estimated that nearly half of all funerals in London were for children under the age of ten. Those who survived grew up without education or resource and virtually no chance to escape the cycle of poverty. Dickens felt that this cycle of poverty could only be broken through education and became interested in what was called the “Ragged Schools.”
Ragged Schools were free schools, run through charity, in which the poorest children received religious instruction and a rudimentary education. Dickens generally applauded the work of these schools although he disapproved of introducing religious doctrine at the expense of a practical education which would help the pupil become a self-sufficient member of society. Despite the availability of these schools, most poor children remained uneducated due to the demand for child labor and the apathy of parents, wretchedly poor and uneducated themselves.
Dickens introduces these children in A Christmas Carol through the allegorical twins, Ignorance and Want. The Ghost of Christmas Present shows them, wretched and almost animal in appearance, to Scrooge with the warning: “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”
Dickens continued to support education for the poor through his works but compulsory education for all did not come about until 1870, the year of Dickens’ death.
by Jane Dunne-Brady
When I was growing up, sometime during the Christmas season, my brother and I would listen to what must have been an old radio play that was recorded on about six old 78 rpm records – it was so great hearing the words spoken on those old scratchy records, and imagining all the action happening – it was spooky and exciting and brought it all alive! The other memories I have of The Christmas Carol are of coming home from midnight mass with my family when I was a kid, and turning on the TV in the very early hours of the morning and watching the old Alistair Sim version of The Christmas Carol — it’s still my favorite version of it — nobody did Scrooge better than him! And I’ve read the book several times — such a powerful story of spiritual redemption and of how the energy of love can transform even the spiritually dead and hopeless.
by Paul Klemperer, Austin, TX, USA
As a traveling musician I while away the road hours with books on tape. Recently I listened to Hard Times, by Charles Dickens, read by Harriet Walter. I heartily recommend it (even though it was slightly abridged), especially for her great character voices. By the way, is it just me or does daily life in America seem increasingly Dickensian? I was recently almost run off the road by a Hummer, speeding recklessly toward some self-important rendezvous. I half expected an aristocrat’s arm to casually extend from the window and toss a smattering of gold coins in the proverbial dust to assuage the serfs.
Strangers say hello
by Nic Scott
I like the idea of pigs flying, and leopards changing spots. Wish, hope, dream, whatever, but apply it somewhere, even if it’s just to smile at someone you never smile at, even if it’s just to wave “hiya” to someone you don’t know. Maybe a bit more application of the good stuff outside of a person’s head, instead of keeping it all internal, would bring a bit more cheer. It always makes me smile when complete strangers say hello, or nod, or smile, and there’s no harm in trying to throw some of that away instead of keeping it all to yourself.
Embrace the dark
by Joy Hanser
For the past 5 years or so I have been discovering the deep peace and regeneration that comes with this time of year, and have begun to look forward to it as a time to actually slow down, reconnect with my body and the Earth, sleep more, spend more time in conversation and friendship, and go for walks in Nature. Candles are a natural light source that provide calmness and intimacy in this time when our society is fond of too much light, rich food, alcohol, frantic shopping, material objects, etc. I have found that as this discovery has grown, I have been granted space to develop this time of simplicity, as if nature is quietly agreeing. My family has stopped exchanging presents, and we all feel so much freer to enjoy the season. Perhaps depression wouldn’t happen so much if we simply accepted the dark time, and let it take us in its embrace.
Way out of a rut
by Kelly Borsheim, Cedar Creek, TX, USA
Helping someone else — whether there is a previous personal connection or not — is one of the best ways to get out of a rut. Turns out that giving is a joyous thing for all parties. In my experience, artists are among the most generous of people. Perhaps inherent in the appreciation of creativity comes a deep, underlying love of humanity and our Earth.
Where the spirit lies
by Carolyn Smith
Regarding Ross Munro’s letter on Psychiatrists, I don’t know who you go to but if it wasn’t for my psychiatrist I wouldn’t be here today. I wouldn’t enjoy the love of my husband, four sons and art. If it wasn’t for the miracle drug Paxil, I’d be insane in an institution or worse, in government. There are many forms of brain dysfunctions. It giveth and it can taketh from one’s productive life. We need more mental health care. It’s people like you Ross who give a terrible stigma to those who are ashamed they can’t “cope” and don’t know what is happening to them. It’s people like you that hide from the real truth. It has nothing to do with art. It’s because of art (basket making hence basket case) they start you off with so you have a feeling of accomplishment. It’s because of art that I can live. Art has given my son a will to live and me a will to live and my husband a will to live. There is where the spirit lies.
J. Bruce Scrooge in progress
by J. Bruce Wilcox, Denver, CO, USA
The Solstice has come and passed, and this year, part/pagan though I am, I didn’t celebrate anything. It snowed yesterday for a half an inch, and in the brilliant blue sunshine of Colorado’s winter, there won’t be anything left come Thursday. Darn! Christmas will come and go without event as well, being as usual, under-funded. After being a display person in a department store many years ago, if I never see another Christmas tree, it’ll be fine with me. Sorry, does that sound cynical?
I’m finishing a new piece today though, and that matters more than anything, anyway. Yet after reading your letter, I’ve found myself on the low-level roller coaster of depression, trying to be okay with what life looks like at this moment. I’m alive. I’m producing. I’ll be fine. I wrote a poem in my 20s called Bah Humbug. At the end of 2001 I wrote Make Peace.
of all the holidays
that come but once a year
christmas is the worst-
yet one most dear
the season to be jolly-
so let’s all decorate
with plastic boughs and holly
we’ll charge all our gifts
as what a need it fills
to give them away-
but- my god- the bills
we’ll party all night-
drag to work the next day-
then do it again-
what more need I say
christ’s just been forgotten-
so instead of christmas cheer
i hope to hell that by some chance
you have a very happy new year
it is time to make peace with your self
do this by loving yourself the way you are
it is time to make peace with your childhood
do this by releasing all old negative programming
it is time to make peace with your family
do this by loving your family as you love yourself
it is time to make peace with your life
do this by moving anger and healing your emotional body
it is time to make peace with humanity as a whole
do this by respecting all life as your family
it is time to make peace with the earth
do this by recognizing the earth as sacred
it is time to make peace with your god/goddess
do this by being and becoming love
it is time to make peace on earth
do this by being at peace with yourself
to a creative caring compassionate human being
nothing less makes sense
by Gary Marathon, Maryland, USA
I have been receiving your letters for about a year now. I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed them. I look forward to them each week and have created a folder on my computer to save many of them that I enjoy reading a second or third time. I know I speak for many, many artists on your list when I say “thank you” for your time, your insights and your dedication to such a worthy endeavor. I hope your holidays are everything you want them to be. Yours in art.
(RG note) Thanks to all who sent personal greetings such as the above from Gary Marathon. All of us who work on this project really appreciated the letters, notes, electronic cards, as well as letters and cards that came in by regular mail. It’s all an amazing connection and our only wish is that everyone might be equally enriched. Merry Christmas to all!
Christmas in Paris
oil painting by
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2003.
That includes Sigrid Tidmore of Tampa, Florida, USA, who wrote, “Among my New Year’s resolutions is a pledge to participate in the dialogue this coming year.”
And also Claudia Bubeck who wrote, “I am just so surprised that someone like me (no art in the family background — blue collar with a strong work-and-make-dollars ethic) so loves the feel and smell of oil paint.”
And also D. Poisson who wrote, “Leopards change spots and pigs fly in the eyes of children. And isn’t that what artists do? Christmas is wonderful for artists and children — finally for a moment, the world seems ideal. Hearts are mostly light with all the pre-occupation of giving and getting. If only the moment could last and the gifts were intangible. That is the trouble with artists… we grow up. Merry Christmas.”