What am I reading this Christmas: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

“Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”

Every Christmas, I would regret not having read ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens as yet. Yes, one of those books that is always on the Classics TBR but gets skipped for some bestseller. Also, I kept saving ‘A Christmas Carol’ for the perfect Christmas time reading list. ‘It is Dickens’ was another reason to put this book aside for a better intellectual space in life to be reached before opening the book.

However, ‘A Christmas Carol’ is different, a) it is a novella, only 141 pages (in the edition I read) b) it reads more like a fairytale or fable, as if Dickens traded his writing notes with Hans Christian Andersen with the common insatiable love for gloom.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Reading about ‘A Christmas Carol’, I learnt Charles Dickens wrote this book within just six weeks, he started to write in October and completed by November, ready to be published for Christmas in December 1843.

Somewhere I also read that it was more common to say ‘Happy Christmas’, but when Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ became wildly successful, the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’ which is repeatedly used in the book was popularized and became a standard Christmas greeting.

Then, the thing that put a chuckle on my face, Scrooge for me had been an immortal character from the time of Disney’s Ducktales, the cartoon series from the nineties. Scrooge McDuck from the series was a miserly billionaire with three naughty nephews and an adorable niece. Little did I know that Scrooge was caricatured upon the character created by Dickens! This character also takes the signature phrase of Scrooge ‘Bah! Humbug!’ from the book. In the 18th century, the word ‘Humbug’ was a slang used to refer to a fraud, hoax, etc. But, ‘Bah! Humbug!’ was never an expression and became popular only for Dickens.

A Christmas Carol is Ebenezer Scrooge’s story of realizing the importance of living life to the fullest, enjoying every occasion and spreading happiness. Scrooge is a miser, focusing all his life to earn and save and repeat the cycle. In the present time (i.e, after a hundred and seventy years since the time this book was published) we are deeply caught in this cycle and hence, this timeless Classic has such a great appeal.

The Chapters are arranged as Staves. Now, I was wondering if this meant the wooden pillars or the planks supporting the building. Like Plank 1 to 5 to build the story structure. But, this is Christmas Carol, the stave is a set of five lines separated by four spaces in a musical notation where each of those lines and spaces represents a different musical pitch.

Scrooge is described as “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.”

Scrooge makes his clerk work hard, without any raise and in abysmal conditions. He even refuses to provide proper heating and grudgingly provides a single holiday on Christmas. And, when people visit him seeking donations for the poor, he bluntly refuses. Even when Scrooge’s nephew visits to invite him for the Christmas dinner, he asks how his poor nephew could feel joyous to which he retorts how his rich Uncle feels dismal. Ofcourse, Dickens wanted people to feel happy on Christmas, to send out the message that wealth alone cannot bring happiness and love.

Scrooge hated Christmas, calling it ‘Humbug’ or a hoax, an excuse for people to spend money outlandishly and take leave from work. Perhaps, Scrooge is just lonely. He is alone on Christmas Eve with his clerk who would rather want to leave early and spend time with his family, and Scrooge has no family member living with him.

At first, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his friend and business partner, Jacob Marley who died seven years back. Marley, as a ghost is roaming about earth entwined in heavy chains and money boxes for living selfishly and greedily. He warns Scrooge that the three ghosts of the Christmas Past, Present and Yet-to-come will visit him to give a last chance for redemption. If Scrooge doesn’t choose to mend his ways wisely, he will meet the same fate. Dickens tries to incorporate the fact that the future is never a constant; it keeps altering based on our conduct from time-to-time.  

As said, Scrooge is visited by the ghosts who take him back in time to the scenes of his life. This seems to be the first time when Scrooge is able to understand how his nephew had felt for him or how miserable his clerk’s life is or how Belle, his finance was hurt while leaving him. No doubt, Scrooge’s transformation is inevitable considering the book to be a Christmas story. It is indeed the writing and theatrics of Dickens in bringing the ghosts and placing Scrooge like-a-ghost in situations from his life which makes this story have such a wonderful connection.  

“It is fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour.”   

‘A Christmas Carol’ resurrects the Christmas fervor, wants you to warm up to the season and live happily.

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