Today is my birthday. I am 69 years old and I must decide what I want to do with the
rest of my life.
I want to be Scrooge.
The name conjures such images!
I want to be just like him.
At the very outset of his book, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens describes Scrooge
"Oh! But he was a tightfisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! 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. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his
cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his
grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He
carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days;
and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas."
Wrote Charles Dickens: "Foul weather didn't know where to have him. The heaviest rain,
and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect.
They often 'came down' handsomely, and Scrooge never did."
No folderrol for Scrooge, nossir!! Let others fend for themselves and leave him alone.
HE got HIS the hard way, didn't he? Yessir. And he intended to keep it!
You have to understand Dickens to know Scrooge.
Charles Dickens died immensely rich in 1870..a worldwide celebrity so popular that
Mark Twain made him a guest in his home. But Dickens' life began modestly.
Charles was born in Landport, Hampshire in 1812 at the start of the new industrial age.
His father, John Dickens, was a clerk in the Navy pay office. John was often in debt..he was
sent to Debtor's Prison when Charles was about 12; and so the boy came to know the
seamiest side of life in that day's England. Those experiences haunted him the rest of his
days; Dickens became a journalist and a dedicated social crusader...produced hundreds of
pamphlets and essays under the pseudonym "BOZ," crying loudly for social justice. Books
written under his own name did the same. He had an elegant writing style, often laced with
humor, and it was stylish to keep up with Charles Dickens.
He had produced many successful works in books, magazines and newspapers, including
the Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist, before he decided to write A Christmas Carol in 1843.
It was coming on Christmas, Dickens needed something special, and there stood
He published it himself as a small book..took about a month to write it, proving that the
best things are often written on deadline. In that same century, Clement Moore needed a
new bedtime story for his children when he penned The Night Before Christmas.
Scrooge is Dickens' metaphor for corporate greed, tyranny of the nobility and Industrial
England's indifference to its lower classes. Business was Scrooge's religion and he felt
totally justified in its pursuit to the exclusion of all else and everyone. He said, "It's enough
for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's. Mine
occupies me constantly."
And it did.
He never bothered to remove Jacob Marley's name from the sign over the counting
house door..it might have been bad for business. Dickens wrote, "but he answered to both
names: it was all the same to him." He said that Scrooge was even an "excellent man of
business on the very day of (Marley's) funeral and solemnized it with with an undoubted
I believe the story really begins when, on the afternoon of the day before Christmas,
1842, when he is visited by an old gentleman who is seeking Christmas donations for the
poor. In his refusal, Scrooge throws down the gauntlet:
"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.
"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
"And the Union workhouses!" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"
"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they are not."
"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigor, then!" said Scrooge.
"Both very busy, sir."
"Oh! I was afraid from what you said at first that something had occurred to stop
them in their useful course," said Scrooge. "I'm very glad to hear it."
Then, Scrooge tells the visitor that he doesn't celebrate Christmas and can't afford
to make idle people merry:
"I help to support the establishments I have mentioned; they cost enough: and those
who are badly off must go there."
"Many can't go there; and many would rather die."
"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the
I've always wondered how Dickens would have written that passage today; but of
course, he wouldn't have to. You can hear it quoted or stated subtlely in the public
media almost any time.
A Christmas Carol could have been a sermon in itself. Maybe it is.
While Dickens seldom refers to God or Jesus Christ directly...their presence is very
much a part of this story. Besides, somebody sent those ghosts.
The three spirits...Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come...
reflect the meaning of our lives both to ourselves and as they affect those around us.
All of us must listen to the ghosts of experience, presence and hope inside us because
they tell us what we are, have been and yet may be. They tell us to live "In The World"
as we find it; to share with, uplift and feed our brethren, no matter who or where.
When Marley -- dead those 7 years -- came to Scrooge on Christmas Eve, he told him:
"It is required of every man, that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his
fellow-men and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned
to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the earth -- oh, woe is me! and
witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!"
In other words, it is up to you..nobody else.
You know what happens next...
As Marley foretold, the first ghost takes Scrooge on a journey into his own past;
Scrooge is reminded of times as a boy when he was very much alone...but then sees
people who once made him happy, and finally is reminded of how he turned them away.
Something stirs inside Scrooge; perhaps a touch of regret?
The second ghost forces Scrooge outside himself--to view the circumstances of the
current world and the part he plays in it. It is not a pretty picture...particularly when he
sees the reality of his employee, Bob Cratchit...and that of Bob's crippled child,
Responding to Scrooge's anxious questions about the boy, the Ghost of Christmas
Present throws Scrooge's own words in his face, snarling that perhaps Scrooge should
"let him die and decrease the surplus population."
"Man," said the Ghost, "if man you be in heart, not adamant, forebear that wicked
cant until you have discovered what the surplus is, and where it is. Will you decide what
men shall live, what men shall die? It may be that in the sight of Heaven you are more
worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child."
The third ghost arrives on schedule; by now, Scrooge knows what to expect:
"Ghost of the Future!" he exclaimed, "I fear you more than any Spectre I have seen.
But, as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from
what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart.."
You see? Scrooge is getting the picture. At each step along the way we see the light
dawning, but oh, so slowly.
The journey ends at a lonely, untended, unmourned grave...where Scrooge finds his
name. And it's just too much.
"Spirit!" he cried, clutching at its robe, "hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be
the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?"
"Good spirit, he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: "your nature
intercedes for me and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have
shown me, by an altered life!"
"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the
Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all three shall strive within me. I will not
shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this
The spirit dissolves and Scrooge awakens in his own bed, sunlight streaming through
the same window from which Marley departed the night before. Scrooge feels reborn. He
is ecstatic, full of joy. Outside, bells peal wildly and he realizes it is Christmas morning --
the ghosts did it all in one night. But of course they did; they're ghosts and they can do
anything they want, can't they?
He dressed himself "all in his best," and at last got into the streets. The people were
by this time pouring forth, as he had seen them with the Ghost of Christmas Present; and
walking with his hands behind him, Scrooge regarded everyone with a delightful smile. He
looked so irresistibly pleasant, in a word, that three or four good-humoured fellows said,
"Good morning, sir! A merry Christmas to you!" And Scrooge said often afterwards, that
of all the blithe sounds he had ever heard, those were the blithest in his ears.
He had not gone far, when coming on towards him he beheld the portly gentleman who
had walked into his countinghouse the day before and said, "Scrooge and Marley's, I believe?"
It sent a pang across his heart to think how this old gentleman would look upon him when
they met; but he knew what path lay straight before him, and he took it.
"My dear sir," said Scrooge, quickening his pace, and taking the old gentleman by both
his hands. "How do you do? I hope you succeeded yesterday. It was very kind of you. A merry