My cousin and I just went to the Goodman Theater’s production of “A Christmas Carol,” originally written as a novel by Charles Dickens. The highly imaginative production featured colorblind casting, meaning that an actor’s ethnicity would not figure into his or her consideration for a role, and in fact, Bob Cratchit’s wife and the Ghost of Christmas Present were played by black women. To me, this further universalized the story, and heightened its appeal, not only to people of all ages, but to people of all colors as well.

After getting home from the theater, I picked up a little book my aunt gave me last Christmas, called “The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits,” by Les Standiford. Kind of a long title for a short, small tome, but it really heightened my appreciation for the holiday season.

The book starts with a quote from Walt Whitman: “Behold I do not give lectures or a little charity, When I give I give myself.” That’s the very lesson “A Christmas Carol” teaches. Ebenezer Scrooge is a pitiless miser, not giving in generosity to anyone else or even himself, but, after being visited by his old, seven years dead business partner Marley, and three ghosts, the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Scrooge has an epiphany and changes his whole manner of dealing with the world around him.

Charles Dickens, author of “A Christmas Carol,” grew up in poverty, and it informed his very being. As the book, “The Man Who Invented Christmas”, points out, “All art grows out of its makers loss, it has been said—and if that is so, Dickens’s loss of his childhood was to become the world’s great gain.”

Dickens became a literary superstar, yet remained afraid of becoming impoverished. He wrote feverishly, in monthly installments in literary magazines, publishing one chapter each month. Like my first creative writing instructor once told our class, “There’s nothing like a deadline to inspire creativity.” Despite Dickens’s fears, he remained resolute that Christmas should be inviolate, and held in our hearts all year long. Dickens once told the world, “The more a man learns, the better, gentler, kinder man he must become.”

And in “A Christmas Carol” Scrooge’s nephew Fred tells his uncle, “I have always thought of Christmas time as. . . the only time I know of, in 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. “[Christmas] has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it.”

Many have said, many times over, that we don’t know Christ’s actual birthday, and many feel he was actually born sometime in April. According to these people, the Catholic Church wanted to draw in as many nonbelievers as possible, and Pagans celebrated the winter solstice when the day was shortest, December 21st or 22nd, depending on the year. These individuals believe that December 25th was coopted to represent Jesus Christ’s birthday since the shortest day of the year, representing the death of the old and the birth of the new, embodied in Christians that change that Christ brought to the world.

In addition, plants and trees which remain green yearlong held special meaning for many. Pagans believed that evergreens would keep away evil spirits, ghosts, and even illness, and so Germany introduced the Christmas tree to the holiday celebration, and Queen Victoria’s German-born husband, Prince Albert, popularized the decorating of the Christmas tree in England.

Charles Dickens grew up in this era, and especially loved the Christmas season. He wrote his book to celebrate goodwill among men, and peace to all. Many of his books moralize more explicitly about the need to care about others, but “A Christmas Carol” continues to touch people deeply in the way few other books have. The strength of this little book is that it makes people feel more than think, and the way they feel has changed the way many conduct their lives. It’s quite a legacy.

I guess the lesson during this 2012 Christmas season is that our thoughts and actions matter, and that we must show generosity in spirit to our fellow men, especially the less fortunate. As Tiny Tim says at the end of A Christmas Carol, “God bless us, Every One.”

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!

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