Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Ghost of Christmas Present

In A Christmas Carol (1843), when the Ghost of Christmas Present visits Ebenezer Scrooge, Dickens lards the narrative with a tremendous variety of words all meant to emphasize vitality.
Take, for example, his description of this ghost. He is a jolly Giant, glorious to see; who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty’s horn (Stave 3, “The Second of the Three Spirits,” here and following). Already we begin to see that everything about Christmas Present is going to be big, bright, and overflowing—all in stark contrast to the small dark stinginess of the now shrinking Olympian self of Ebenezer.

As the Ghost and Ebenezer walk the streets of London together, all the people they meet are positively bursting with energy and goodwill. Boys experience mad delight with snow, there was an air of cheerfulness abroad, people shoveling snow were jovial and full of glee…laughing heartily, customers were all so hurried and so eager in the hopeful promise of the day, that they tumbled up against each other at the door…and committed hundreds of other like mistakes in the best humour possible, and when the steeples called good people all, to church and chapel…away they came, flocking through the streets in their best clothes, and with their gayest faces.
Dickens mentions food often and in close association with abundance and joy. There were great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence. There were ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions, shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars; and winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced demurely at the hung-up mistletoe…There were Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner.
This ghost brings blessings with his presence where it is needed most. The sight of…poor revelers appeared to interest the Spirit very much, for he…sprinkled incense on their dinners from his torch. And it was a very uncommon kind of torch, for once or twice when there were angry words between some [people] who had jostled with each other, he shed a few drops of water on them from it, and their good humour was restored directly…
“Is there a peculiar flavour in what you sprinkle from your torch?” asked Scrooge.
“There is. My own.”
“Would it apply to any kind of dinner on this day?” asked Scrooge?
“To any kindly given. To a poor one most.”
“Why to a poor one most?” asked Scrooge.
“Because it needs it most.” It might be helpful for us to remember, on Christmas Day, that Jesus came to save not the righteous but sinners. He came not because we deserved him but because we desperately needed him. Without his birth, death, and resurrection, there would have been no ridding ourselves of both our own damned Olympian personalities and the six false yet conventional gods of Olympianity whom they adore to their own destruction.
The Ghost of Christmas Present also takes Ebenezer where he most needs to go. He begins by taking him to the home of his clerk and on the threshold of the door the Spirit smiled, and stopped to bless Bob Cratchit’s dwelling with the sprinklings of his torch. Think of that!
Ebenezer meets Mrs. Cratchit and sees her dressed in worn clothing brightened for Christmas with cheap ribbons. He also meets her oldest daughter Belinda (dressed in the same manner), oldest son Peter, two younger Cratchits and, eventually, Bob himself with his thread-bare clothes darned up and brushed, to look seasonable, and his youngest, Tiny Tim.
Again, great attention is devoted to the vitality represented by hearty and abundant food. There’s the figuratively golden goose: you might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course: and in truth it was something very like it in that house…Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. There’s its luxurious…sage-and-onion stuffing, gravy hissing hot, and applesauce. There’s the pudding, the pride of Mrs. Cratchit: Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage. Finally, there’s Bob with his hot mixture in a jug of gin and lemons which, after the goose and fixings, was tasted and considered perfect by everyone!
Great attention is given, as well, to the relationships of love freely shared by the members of this family despite their poverty. Mrs. Cratchit regards her husband as precious and gives Martha a dozen kisses upon her return and tells her to sit down by the fire, my dear, and have a warm, Lord bless ye!” When Bob returns home and sees Martha, he hugs his daughter to his heart’s content. The two young Cratchits love their little brother and, when he returned with their father, they bore him off into the wash-house, that he might hear the pudding singing in the copper.
 Attention is even given to the vitality demonstrated by members of this marginal family. Peter rejoices. The two younger Cratchits enjoy running, speaking loudly, dancing, and exalting. It is lame Tiny Tim, however, who demonstrates the greatest strength of character. As his father put it, after their return from Christmas worship, Somehow he gets thoughtful sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”
After the family had finished its dinner to everyone’s satisfaction, and Bob had asked for a blessing from God which was echoed by Tiny Tim, Christian Ebenezer expressed concern for the latter. “Spirit,” said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt before, “tell me if Tiny Tim will live.”
“I see a vacant seat,” replied the Ghost, “in the poor chimney corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.”
“No, no,” said Scrooge. “Oh no, kind Spirit! say he will be spared.”
“If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race,” returned the Ghost, “will find him here. What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.
Olympian Ebenezer devoted himself to Pluto, god of money, and therefore strongly believed in his own righteousness as a wealthy person and in the viciousness of all others, including Bob Cratchit and his family, who were poorer. To Pluto and his blind minions, poor people are useless and deserve death. To Jesus and the Ghost of Christmas Past, they are precious. Christian Ebenezer understood that. His regret concerning Olympian Ebenezer’s behavior strengthened his Christian self.
The Ghost of Christmas Past took Ebenezer to visit many others celebrating Christmas—all to the benefit of Ebenezer’s Christian self. Much they saw, and far they went, and many homes they visited, but always with a happy end. The Spirit stood beside sick beds, and they were cheerful; on foreign lands, and they were close at home; by struggling men, and they were patient in their greater hope; by poverty, and it was rich. In almshouse, hospital, and jail, in misery’s every refuge, where vain man in his little brief authority had not made fast the door, and barred the Spirit out, he left his blessing, and taught Scrooge his precepts.

Copyright © 2015 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.