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  • Writer's pictureMaureen Seel

A Christmas Carol: Learning from our past so we can live in the present and not fear the future.

Updated: Dec 9, 2022

Part 1: Learning from the past.

For this particular blog post, I wanted to cover this story in three parts. Because not only is "A Christmas Carol" one of my favorite stories of all time, but the Muppet Christmas Carol is one of my favorite Christmas movies. "A Christmas Carol" is a story that has been done and redone so many times, there are countless versions and iterations of this Dickens classic. For the sake of this post, I will be covering both the Muppet Christmas Carol and the short novel itself

Most people are familiar with the general story of "A Christmas Carol". Grouchy and cruel old Ebenezer Scrooge is a money lender. He's stingy, mean, and selfish. After the death of his business partner, Jacob Marley, he won't even spend money to remove his partner's name from the sign outside his business. He's too cheap to buy coal to keep his poor bookkeeper, Bob Cratchit, from freezing to death at his desk. He doesn't have a kind word for anyone including those trying to collect money for charity and even a poor little boy singing carols outside his front door. He hates most people and especially those that enjoy Christmas which is, by his estimation, a frivolous and pointless holiday. But all of this changes when his late partner's ghost comes to visit him and tells of three spirits that will come to visit Scrooge that night. The three spirits of the past, present, and future each teach Scrooge valuable lessons, in the hopes that he can avoid the miserable afterlife of regret and misery that surely awaits him, should he refuse to change.

I won't go over the details of the book, mostly because people either know the story or should read it themselves (Charles Dickens was a talented storyteller). But Scrooge learns from the three spirits that the regrets he has in his past have made him a bitter and jaded person in the present, and therefore, his future has no hope. He has no prospect of leaving behind any kind of legacy except tales of his own selfishness and cruelty to his fellow human beings. When Scrooge is given a second chance at living a different life, he does so and becomes one of the most generous men the city of London ever knew.

Most people think the takeaway from this is that Scrooge learned to care about his fellow man, and that is what saved him from the horrible fate he witnessed alongside the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. But the more I thought about one of my favorite stories, I realized there was a much deeper meaning behind this Christmas Classic than just "be nice to everyone or the grim reaper will come for you". It is also about accepting ourselves for exactly who we are right now. Let me explain:

Michael Kane was the best Scrooge ever. Prove me wrong.

I think to better understand the real meaning behind this story, we need to go somewhat out of order. The story of "A Christmas Carol" actually examines the difference between two realities, one where Scrooge allows his past to make him bitter and in which he dies a lonely old man that nobody mourns or misses. In the other reality, he stops living in the trauma of his past and makes peace with his inner demons. When I say "past", don't think that I refer simply to the time that the ghost of Christmas Past shows to Scrooge. I refer to the entirety of Scrooge's past up to the point that Scrooge sees Marly's ghost that fateful Christmas Eve. The reason this distinction is important is that there were a lot of events that weren't actually covered during the first of Scrooge's supernatural trips, and we know they happened because Dickens later either outright refers to or leaves up to interpretation at later points in the book.

While I do love the Muppet Christmas Carol most of all the media's portrayals of this story, it does leave out some critical information. We are led to believe in the movie that Scrooge went to school and was alone a good part of the time, then fell in love with a woman and later lost her because of his own greed and inability to commit. But what the movie leaves out is that Scrooge was thrown out of his own home as a child. The school he attended was a boarding school and his father sent him away, not permitting him to come home even during the Christmas holiday.

While it isn't spelled out (so to speak) in the book, it appears that Scrooge was somewhat of a black sheep in the family. He is blamed for things that likely had nothing to do with him. It is also alluded to by Scrooge's sister, Fanny, that their father was cruel at one time, but had become kinder when he finally allowed Scrooge to return home. Later, as Scrooge talks with the ghost of Christmas Past, we as the reader learn that his sister later died in childbirth. She gave birth to her only child, Fred. It is established within the first few pages of the story that Scrooge has no love for his nephew. He is annoyed by his cheerful good nature which is in such opposition to Scrooge's own icy and hard demeanor, so it appears at least at first that Scrooge hates his nephew because he's like that coworker that accuses you of having a "case of the Mondays". But when we learn that Fred actually died while giving birth to the only relative that showed any kindness toward Ebenezer, suddenly we might see the dynamic between him and his nephew a little differently. He resents Fred because he took Scrooge's sister from him. Per the book, Fred also looks a good deal like his mother, Fanny, and is a constant reminder of this loss to our protagonist.

When the story first begins, it is understood that Scrooge is elderly-maybe in his late sixties or into his seventies. So it is safe to assume that at this point he has also lost both of his parents. I can't imagine they ever had a real "heart-to-heart" about why Scrooge was thrown out of his own home and not allowed to come home. I also can't imagine Scrooge's father ever apologized for being abusive to Scrooge (and potentially others in the family) or that there was any kind of absolution.

On top of all of this, we have the story of Scrooge's lost love. "Belle" is introduced in the Muppet version of this classic as a woman that Scrooge meets at his work Christmas party. They fall in love and plan to get married, but Scrooge ultimately never feels financially secure enough to settle down. Is this really all that surprising? Scrooge had the rug pulled out from under him while he was still a child. His own parents sent him away, seemingly for no good reason, and he had to fend for himself. This also likely means that he had some difficulty trusting others with his emotions. His past emotional and physical neglect and abuse might make it difficult for Scrooge to form healthy and lasting attachments. Let us also not forget that this story takes place during Victorian England when being poor was equated with being lazy and, to some, downright morally corrupt. People were sent to workhouses which some still debate might have been worse than the streets themselves. Of course, he'd like to avoid that at all costs. While the movie ended the story of Belle and Ebenezer with one of the most hated songs of my childhood ("The Love is Gone"), the book takes the story one step further. Scrooge sees her again one day, in the living room of her small but warm and loving home, surrounded by her children. She seems overwhelmed (being a mom is a tough job-especially during those times), but truly happy with her family and situation. And Scrooge has to live knowing that could have been him. He allowed his fear of insecurity and poverty to rob him of the only thing that no amount of scrimping and saving could give him: love.

If this shit is not disturbing to you, you might not actually be looking at it.

And did I happen to mention that a lot of Scrooge's negative experiences all took place on or around Christmas? No wonder the guy had such a negative association with the holiday. So when the ghost shows Scrooge memories of his painful past, it's understandable that his reaction is "Why do you delight in torturing me?" When I first read the ghost's reply, I first assumed that he was being unnecessarily cruel. The ghost in the Muppet movie said "These are the shadows of your past, Ebenezer. They are what they are. Do not blame me." Sounds like kind of a jerk, right? But on further inspection and consideration, I understand another possible interpretation of this statement. Just because Scrooge wasn't actively thinking of these memories every day doesn't mean they weren't still affecting him very deeply. They were wounds that never healed. Scrooge never got closure or apologies. He figured being alone was the safest way to be given his past experiences. But the ghost showed him otherwise. He wasn't alone. He was carrying around the ghosts of his past with him. And this was preventing Scrooge from living in the present and really enjoying the love that was all around him the entire time.

To be Continued...

So you'd think that the next part would be about living in the present. Nope. I'm gonna switch it up on you and we will look at how Scrooge's past was paving the way for continued loneliness and misery as Scrooge looks at how his life plays out in the present and in the future with the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Have you read A Christmas Carol? Is there a movie version that's your favorite? Leave a comment below!

Uh...yeah. In New York, your Christmas does come with a side of rats.

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