“There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories of
Christmases long, long ago” —Andy Williams
One-hundred seventy-five years after its publication, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens remains a staple of the Christmas season. When I saw it as a stage play in my teens, I remember being particularly inspired to find the perfect gifts for friends and family. I felt a deeper appreciation for them, and a greater satisfaction in making them smile.
Although A Christmas Carol in many ways endorses altruism, it is nevertheless a remarkable work of art that offers life-enhancing value as well. Consider the scene in which the Ghost of Christmas Past transports Scrooge back to the night when Fezziwig, the master under whom he apprenticed, threw a tremendous Christmas party for all of his employees.
“A small matter,” said the Ghost, “to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.” “Small!” echoed Scrooge. The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig, and, when he had done so, said: “Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four, perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?” “It isn’t that,” said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter self—“it isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy, to make our service light or burdensome, a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks, in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up; what then? The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”1
The story reminds us of the importance of spiritual values. As Craig Biddle writes, living a spiritually rich life requires “thinking clearly about one’s psychological needs, choosing and pursuing goals that fill one’s life with meaning,” and “developing healthy relationships with good people.”2 By revealing the spiritual poverty of the materially wealthy Scrooge, A Christmas Carol shows that spiritual values—such as love and connection—are vital to a meaningful life.
Director Bharat Nalluri’s 2017 film, The Man Who Invented Christmas (based on the eponymous book by Les Standiford), takes that timeless tale a step further. It retells the story while dramatizing many of the actual events and ideas that inspired Dickens to write A Christmas Carol. For those interested in fiction writing, its value is magnified. It shows Dickens struggling with plausible problems of plot and character, with underwhelming reviews for several previous books and vanishing royalties, with constant interruptions and the stresses of self-publishing. It shows him prevailing over all of these things—and finishing the story we still enjoy today in just six weeks.
It’s a beautiful, funny, and uplifting film, and I think it will add joy to your holiday. So check it out, and have a very merry Christmas!
P.S. See this article for a comparison between the movie and Dickens’s life.
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1. Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, enriched classic edition (New York: Atria, 2013), loc. 469–480. When Scrooge says that Fezziwig “has the power to render us happy or unhappy,” I take him to mean that Fezziwig can do so in a limited sense by making his employees’ “service light or burdensome, a pleasure or a toil.”
2. Craig Biddle, “Reclaiming Spirituality for Lovers of Life,” The Objective Standard, vol. 11, no. 3, Fall 2016, 10.