I hate the repetitive melodies of tolling bells and lacklustre lyrics of Christmas songs. I hate tinsel, dangling from plastic trees and draped across the ceiling like Poundland chandeliers. I hate Christmas films, Brussel sprouts, and I’ll never understand the significance of holly. And if one more shoves a piece of mistletoe above my head, I might make them eat it. Everyone compares me to the Dickens character in a Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge, but I don’t hate Christmas. To the contrary, I quite like it.
I love getting pissed before 10 am and the dried-out flesh of a turkey. I love the stupid little gifts inside a Christmas cracker, although I’ll admit, the silly little hats can disappear. Is there anything in this world better than a Pig in a Blanket? I’d ask for a suggestion, but there is nothing. It’s drunken sex with the love of your life all wrapped up in a piece of bacon. And I love arguing with my family over a game of monopoly. Ebenezer Scrooge wouldn’t even play games at Christmas.
Charles Dickens wrote his Christmas novella after visiting a school for street kids. It was released 6 days before Christmas 1843, and the first edition sold out before Christmas Eve. The symbolic theme of the story is the ability of a selfish businessman to redeem himself and give back to an underprivileged society. In the final stave or chapter, Scrooge awakens and is an instantly changed man. He makes charitable donations, gives his clerk a raise and spends his Christmas with a family he’d previously alienated. All of this contrasts with the earlier representation of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Ebenezer Scrooge according to vocabulary.com
- a selfish person who is unwilling to give or spend
Scrooge is shown as a selfish character, caring very little for what others value. For scrooge, a scrupulous businessman, everything needs to make business sense. Scrooge is angered by Bob Cratchit, his clerk, refusal to work Christmas and his insistence on receiving his already measly pay. It’s not an uncommon phenomenon. In today’s capitalist world, a lot of corporations’ care about nothing more than their bottom lines. The profit comes before people and their health.
Cratchit works for 15 shillings a week, where he puts in 60 hours. The character shows an insight into the working conditions of Victorian Britain, and although some things have changed, we still have an unfair wage system in effect. Scrooge doesn’t understand why Cratchit would want the whole of Christmas day off and feels aggrieved that he should have to pay his clerk for the day. Scrooge insists that should he force his employee to work on the 25th, he’d consider himself as mistreated as he does about paying him.
We take these employment benefits for granted in Britain, but it isn’t a problem exclusively reserved for the past. The five-day working week and the eight-hour working week, plus a 28-day holiday pay were all introduced into the law to protect the rights of workers by horrible bosses such as Scrooge. I support these rights, and should I ever have to employ someone I like to believe I’d pay them more than what’s expected of me should I ever generate a large enough income. For me, it feels right.
Scrooge seems unmoved by charitable work. When two gentlemen come calling, looking for money to help feed the poor over Christmas, Scrooge asks a question, well two, that would later come to haunt him, quite literally. ‘Are there no prisons?’ to which the men reply, ‘plenty of prisons.’ Scrooge then asks, ‘And the Union workhouses? Are they still in operation?’ The men then clarify their position by stating that some people are unable to attend those places, and that ‘some would rather die than go there.’ To which Scrooge replies, ‘If they would rather die, they had better do it and decrease the surplus population.’
In the following conversation, Scrooge shows his ignorance and a sharp reluctance to learn more about the suffering of those less fortunate than him. It’s not his business to interfere with the business of others. Which is ironic, considering he’s a money lender in a period where people in debt could work off their debts in prison. Dickens own parents spent his childhood in such a place.
A workhouse is a place that provides work and accommodation to those who can’t afford to work for themselves. It seems Scrooge may be more a product of the times, but his refusal to help buy ‘meat and wine’ for the very poorest of society shows his contempt for the needs of people. He works side by side with Cratchit, but he doesn’t understand his situation. Scrooge holds so much hatred for the poor, he uses their struggle to threaten his clerk. Highlighted by Scrooges promises to end Cratchitt’s current employment if he speaks out of place again.
Later, in the story, the ghost of Christmas present takes Scrooge on a tour of the London streets. With his own eyes, Scrooge sees the tough struggles some face. When he asks the spirit if these people have any place to go, the ghost replies with the same question scrooge once asked. ‘Aren’t there prisons… workhouses?’
In defence of Scrooge’s wicked ways, his refusal to spend more on those less fortunate than him also sees him not spending money on much else, including himself. Dickens introduced Scrooge as ‘tight-fisted at the grindstone…a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner.’ I believe Dickens didn’t mean tight-fisted as in cheap, but instead, he likely meant Scrooge was a strict and unpleasant boss who worked his clerk to death.
Perhaps the best example of Scrooge’s tightwad natures comes from the 1984 film, which saw Scrooge portrayed by George C Scott. In the opening scene, Scott examines the use of coal and clothes to keep warm. He coldly states that clothes were designed for that exact purpose and only need to be purchased once. Fuel on the other hand, needs to be continually burnt to provide warmth in the cold winter. Scrooge then demands his clerk buy a coat or go cold.
A Christmas Carol, like a lot of Dickens work, has survived many generations. Its story traverses time and tells a story still familiar to us today. The setting may have changed drastically, but the characters represent a lot we can find in our culture today. It’s just one of the reason, Dickens is one of my favourite writers, it’s not because he’s a great storyteller or all-around wordsmith. It’s that his stories and characters relate to all of us.
I’m not like Scrooge, but that’s the real legacy. A word, or an idea, or a person that has come to represent something 150 years on. Scrooge was more than anti-Christmas; he was anti-humanity. Living solely for capital. With a novelette trying to garner the new Victorian Christmas spirit, Dickens showed there’s always more important things than money. Family, friends, and seasons cheer. So, if anything makes you miserable this Christmas, it doesn’t make you a bad person. But even Ebenezer Scrooge changed. Merry Christmas.