“I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.
Their faithful Friend and Servant, C.D. December, 1843.”
putting up the Christmas tree... an epic tradition
And it was with this little letter to his readers that Charles Dickens began his classic “A Christmas Carol.” Whether it’s through Mickey Mouse, or Kermit the Frog, or Jim Carrey, or Bill Murray, or Dickens himself, you’ve heard the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge’s transformation from frosty miser to merry man of charity. Dickens warned us, his novel is a ghost story, a merry moralizing ghost story.
A century an a half after Dickens published the novel, his great-great grandson, tours the world reading the tale aloud to throngs of holiday merry-makers. Dickens’ story is so well-loved because it speaks to the power of Christmas to warm the heart. Ultimately, “a Christmas Carol” is exactly what its title says it is — a joyous song about the many miracles of Christmas. Though, as I’ve grown a bit older (only a bit) and a bit wiser (only a very, very little bit), I’ve come to realize that it is not only the Scrooges of the world who are haunted by the 3 Ghosts of Christmas. For all of us, the Christmas present teams with the spectres of Christmases past and Christmases future. Truthfully, Christmas is more haunted than Halloween.
I’m lucky. Most of my ghosts of Christmas past are Caspers. They’re friendly and warm memories of tree-hunting, dinner parties, caroling in front of the fire, and the exciting exchange of gifts. This is not to say every Christmas past was as perfect as a picture print from Currier & Ives, but I have been more fortunate than most to be able to spend my 24 Christmases with the people I love most. As for the ghost of Christmas Present? He promises to bring another Eve and Day passed in good cheer.
But the Ghost of Christmas Future, whether for Scrooge or for us, is less friendly. With his inevitable visit (which usually comes once all the guests have gone and I’m alone in front of the fire), comes a sense of uncertainty. For how much longer will I be this lucky? What will my Christmas look like 10 years from now? Will I still be preparing dinner for my family? Will that family be bigger? Smaller? There’s always a pang of fear with the thought that one day I might spend Christmas alone. Without the benefit of siblings or family in this country, it’s not a total stretch of the imagination. I think of the many things that have happened since last Christmas — of my friends who married, of my friends who broke up, of my cousin’s passing, of my family’s reunion. Uncertainty is the one certainty that comes with every new year, and it’s the post palpable at Christmas.
Luckily, I tend not to dwell for too long on the darker spectres that loom in the future. I prefer to start planning my menu for next year’s Christmas banquet… maybe, I’ll bake a pie. Everyone loves a pie.
“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited…Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time…as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know if, 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.” – Scrooge’s Nephew