We need a new Christmas Carol story

When Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol he had a very specific goal of awakening people’s hearts to a belief in the virtue of abundance and of sharing. He knew his audience, but he was working to the scale of his time, a smaller population, a more restricted but conversely more impactful circle of influence. Dickens’ seminal story of realisation and repentance has ceased to be the right curative myth for our society. Scrooge’s failing is in being disconnected from the people around him. The failure of today’s Scrooges is the belief that connecting with the people around them is enough.

Painting of a Russian old man being presented with a cake.

Ivan Bilibin illustration of a Pushkin fairy tale

A key moment in the original story is when the ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge a pair of beggar children. “The boy is want, the girl is ignorance. Beware the girl.” But ignorance is not our problem. The people with the most power are superlatively well informed. They are hyper aware not only of where lack exists in the world, but of how the resources they have could alleviate it. Our problem today is not miserly hoarding of money unused, it is the hoarding of indulgence, keeping treats and beautiful experiences only for those designated as part of our own circle. Giving to our own children while feeling no responsibility towards anyone else’s.

Dickens’ story has become a comfort instead of a prickle. It is too easy to buy redemption by indulging those around us, and reach the end of the story feeling it has told us something we knew all along. The modern Scrooge is not redeemed by the gifting of a metaphorical goose to a nephew. The Murdochs and Reinhardts, Morrisons and Hockeys are no doubt sitting down to lavish spreads right now, and feeling generous because of the gifts they have given their friends, and probably even their closest advisors and employees. Today we need a story that makes it clear that a generous spirit is not one who looks for happiness on the face of the people at their table, but the one that will not accept that those left behind must stay so.

It is not enough to connect only with those you see, to share a generous spirit only with those for whom our responsibility is immediately visible. Until a new story is written, our text for Christmas is better taken from John Donne:

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” – John Donne Meditation XVII

Blessings of a humble atheist upon your Saturnalia. May our tables be ever-expanding.

4 thoughts on “We need a new Christmas Carol story

  1. Pingback: We need a new Christmas Carol story

  2. Thanks for saying this. Every year at work I go through this thing with the folks who are raising money for a toy drive for the children of the janitorial / grounds staff — it’s not that I object to children having toys at Christmas; it’s that I want us to pay those people a living wage so that they can provide their children with a Christmas of their own design. Feeling good about giving a toy to a child who wants one doesn’t solve that problem; in fact, it hides it.

    Not an atheist but fully on board with you here.

  3. You make a really good point, one I should have included, about another change from a Victorian message to one more appropriate for today. We need a proportional shift from an emphasis on charity as a means to alleviate suffering to an emphasis on respectful work practices. Plum pudding is all very well, but does Bob Cratchit get a decent superannuation plan and health insurance?

  4. Pingback: No cutesy Latin title 7 + a few fanfic and reminder of new blog links | Me + Richard Armitage

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