Friday, 19 December 2014

Humbug!

A mailing list email from Phil Grundy / LICC arrived in my inbox today. I thought it interesting enough to reproduce. Merry Christmas!

On this day in 1843, a short story was first published that has played a significant part in our Christmases ever since. Never out of print, it has been adapted many times for film, stage, opera, and other media. Darkness, loneliness and death are juxtaposed with light, joy and warmth in a moral tale of second chances and redemption.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was partly inspired by the effects of the Industrial Revolution on the working class poor, children in particular, and Dickens’ desire to convey their plight. Into this he blended the supernatural and spiritualism, feasting and family togetherness, generosity and compassion. Charitable giving increased after its publication. It popularised the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’, and established other words – like ‘Scrooge’ and ‘Humbug’ – in the English language.

Much of its sentiment remains at the heart of our modern day Christmas. We now have a curious blend of the biblical account of the coming of Christ the Saviour King mixed together with stories like A Christmas Carol, with its ideas of togetherness, family and charity told against a backdrop of commerce and consumption.

If Dickens were here today, what might he have made of the scenes a few weeks ago during the discounting frenzy that is ‘Black Friday’ – with strangers engaged in tugs of war over plasma screens? The inequality and selfishness evident in A Christmas Carol are still with us. Technology has connected us in ways that could only be imagined in 1843, yet loneliness hasn’t been overcome. Is that perhaps why the story still resonates?

Two high-profile TV adverts this season seem to point back to the sentiment of Dickens’ tale. Sainsbury’s sign off with the strap line ‘Christmas is for sharing’, whilst John Lewis prefer ‘Give someone the Christmas they’ve been dreaming of’. Behind the marketing strategy seems to be a genuine search for a more profound message to accompany the call to consume. Both are centred on sharing and people, not objects or wealth.

Margaret Oliphant, Scottish novelist and historical writer, wrote that A Christmas Carol ‘moved us all those days ago as if it had been a new gospel’. And its popularity and pertinence remain undimmed. But shining even brighter is the old Gospel – the ultimate story of second chances and redemption that is ready to move us again this Christmas and lead us to sharing it with others.

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