A good friend recently told me he was happy the holiday season was over. “Too much pressure,” he said. “To get the right gift, to have everything go just as everyone wants. I’m glad to get back to normal!” He sighed with palpable relief.
I could not have disagreed with him more; I want the Christmas season to last all year.
The glorious escape from work means, of course, no work, something to be celebrated on its own merit. But more importantly, it means I get to be at home, with my wife and children, the most important people in the world to me.
I had a wonderful time with my youngest these past two weeks reading the books and playing the games she got for Christmas. I talked into the night with my oldest about her college dreams and how to deal with the constant pressure the world exerts on us to make us conform to practices we know, in our hearts, are not humanly redeeming.
I also spent time learning how to play some fragments of Bach (alas, I have neither sufficient time nor talent for more!) and practicing all the Christmas music that I fervently play once a year for a few weeks and then, with the return of the workaday world, leave for the coming year.
I prayed the Salve Regina, and listened to the monks at the French Abbey of St. Martin of Ligugé perform Gregorian chant. I tried to calm myself down from my normal hyperactive, hyper-stressed state of being long enough to reflect on the coming of light into the world.
And I reread A Christmas Carol, something I try to do every year. Dickens is a writer I cherish, and this story will always be close to my heart, given its near omnipresence in the now-extinct American culture I grew up in half a century ago.
I see that now, in the warped spirit of the present time, there are those who denounce both the story and its writer as insufficiently woke (though, to their credit, some Marxists recognize the deep humanity in Dickens’s work). Some of these readers believe the portrayal of Scrooge and Marley to be anti-Semitic. Clearly, they’ve failed to discern—thanks to their overactive imaginations and poor reading skills—that Scrooge’s family are Christians, and Marley’s ghost refers to both himself and his living partner as “Christian spirits.” An artistic depiction of a miserly, uncompassionate Christian is apparently an object unimaginable for some eager to find racial and religious offense everywhere they look.
There are many passages in A Christmas Carol that I could recite by heart, and many others I have not committed to memory that nonetheless move me to tears every time I reread them. The scene where Bob Cratchit breaks down exclaiming “My little, little child! My little child!” and then climbs the stairs to the room where the body of his son Tiny Tim lies in bed, and bends to kiss his face, is heartbreaking. And yet, Cratchit’s faith allows him to come downstairs to the living members of his family and proclaim how even this tragedy will teach them to be better Christians:
“And I know,” said Bob, “I know, my dears, that when we recollect how patient and how mild he was; although he was a little, little child; we shall not quarrel easily among ourselves, and forget poor Tiny Tim in doing it.”
“No, never, father!” they all cried again.
“I am very happy,” said little Bob, “I am very happy!”
The entire episode is as moving, and as deeply consonant with the spirit of the teaching of Cratchit’s faith, as any that exists in literature.
But the passage I will keep in my mind this year is the one in which Scrooge declares, on waking from the last visitation, his promise to live his life according to the moral lesson he has learned: “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.”
All the year, in the past, the present, and the future. To keep the spirit of those lessons not just on Christmas Day, or during the holiday season, but every day and always. To remember that we are oriented at once to three worlds and three communities of our beloved fellows: those once here and now gone, those who will one day be, and those with whom we presently live.
In this short statement, Dickens has summarized a Christian life project that, while perhaps impossible to perform perfectly, we can nonetheless always return to, however falteringly, after deviating and forgetting.
The day after Christmas, I saw a substantial number of neighbors who apparently shared my friend’s sentiment about the holiday. They had already taken down their trees and deposited them on the street for trash collection.
I find it unbearably sad to see that every year. Yes, I know that practical matters require that the trees come down at some point. But we are keeping our tree up, and our lights as well, for a little while longer. And even after we take ours down, I am going to try to remember Scrooge’s words.
As well as those of Bob Cratchit. This year, his reflection on his son made me immediately think of my own little child, who lovingly takes the hand of her friend every morning as the two of them walk merrily into school together.
For “the Spirits of all three” strive more profoundly within us when we become as little children.
Alexander Riley is the author of Angel Patriots: The Crash of United Flight 93 and the Myth of America.
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