Monday, November 28, 2016

Be a real Scrooge this Christmas

I hope you enjoy this blog from my friend Garret Lee.  (I posted it last year but it deserves a repeat)

Be a real Scrooge this Christmas..
I agree with him... 

An Overplayed Carol
By Garrett A. Lee

Card players warn against “overplaying your hand.”  This is when you are dealt a strong hand, and, rather than settle for simply winning the round, you go for bonus points—only to end up losing the round after all.  What was a strong hand for normal play, was not strong enough for bonus play.  It was overplayed.
I suggest there is a tendency at Christmas to overplay a popular literary hand: Charles Dickens’ classic story, A Christmas Carol.  This cherished tale is so ingrained in American culture we overplay its message (even more than we over-play its myriad media adaptations).  The fear of “being a Scrooge” who doesn’t “keep Christmas,” drives us to distraction and obsession.
Keeping Christmas isn’t what it used to be, though.  We start sooner, wear out quicker, spend more, and enjoy less.  By the time Christmas Day arrives, many are ready to be done with it.  The celebration takes priority over the thing celebrated.  Expectations and obligations have grown “link by link, and yard by yard….It is a ponderous chain!”  We can become so bent on keeping Christmas we end up not having Christmas at all.
We have overplayed our hand.
Dickens dealt a very strong hand when he penned his “Ghostly little book.”  It was a time when many London industrialists and businessmen were taking oppressive advantage of the under classes.  Children, as well as adults, were forced to work twelve hours or more a day in unfit conditions and for meager wages.  Many employees were even denied Christmas Day as a holiday.  Dickens, a social activist, saw this as the ultimate exploitation of the poor. A Christmas Carol  was created to highlight these evils; and, of all his writings, none other have affected more social change.  The Christmas card trumped the business suit.  It was a very strong hand indeed.
Over the ensuing sixteen decades, we have overplayed its revered message.  Dickens’ message was that we really are to be our brothers’ keepers, not merely keepers of Christmas.  He used Christmas as a tool to affect the culture; we have let the culture affect Christmas.  Whatever the culture identifies as Christmas, we must keep—and keep up with—lest we be labeled a Scrooge.
As American society has grown wealthier and more materialistic, we have become more like Old Scrooge than we care to admit.  We see less and less reason to let a good holiday stand in the way of good commerce.  We have played Dickens’ hand so well, that Christmas has become a greater source of business than Old Ebenezer himself could ever have conceived.  To Scrooge, Christmas was an intrusion to commerce, but to the executive today it is the critical figure of the annual balance sheet.  The prize turkey was to Bob Cratchits’ family the ultimate Christmas gift; now Christmas itself is the ultimate golden goose.
At the beginning of the Carol, the miserly Scrooge berates Christmas as an unprofitable, costly waste.  Nephew Fred’s classic speech (which never makes it in its entirety into the movie adaptations) follows:

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited [economically], I dare say,” returned the nephew: “Christmas among the rest.  But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in all the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them  as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.  And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”   

Maybe it’s the Victorian English, the antiquated phrasing; or perhaps it’s just our short attention spans.  All we hear is, “Christmas is a good thing, even if it’s expensive.”  That’s good as far as it goes.  But Fred’s discourse also includes two primary reasons Christmas is good.  
First, Christmas is good “due to its sacred name [Christ] and origin [religious observance of His birth].”  This is assumed to such degree that Fred doubts it possible to separate any part of Christmas from it.  Yet Western culture has labored hard to do just that.  Though A Christmas Carol is a secular story, in the mid 1800s even a secular story could accept this religious basis, and even vague references to the Christ Child of Christmas would not be wasted on most readers.  Such reference today, however, is easily removed altogether and not missed.  In a morbid twist on the old adage, we throw out the Baby and keep the bathwater.
Secondly, Fred notes Christmas is good as the unsurpassed time of year when people care for others across all socioeconomic levels and collectively take notice of the needs of the less fortunate.  Traces of this still play out today.  Many still attempt to “make some slight provision for the poor and destitute.”  But it is often very slight and more often short-lived generosity.
If we are to stop overplaying this hand, we must become Scrooges all.
“Christmas a humbug!  You don’t mean that, I am sure?”  Not at all.  Most commonly overlooked when thinking of Scrooge is that A Christmas Carol is a story of redemption.  Scrooge repents!  The image of Scrooge we usually hold onto is the “clutching, grasping, wrenching, covetous old sinner.”  But by the end of the tale, remember, he is the model of keeping Christmas.  He sends a turkey to his employee.  He pledges an unspeakable amount for the poor.  He attends Christmas church service.  He accepted his nephew’s invitation to Christmas dinner.  He raises Bob’s salary.

“Scrooge was better than his word.  He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father.  He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world….And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”  

Repent the humbug, and be a real Scrooge this Christmas.  Downplay the tinsel and gold, and buy a scuttle of coal for a Cratchit near you.

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