Throughout my life, variations of this story have been my favorite Christmas stories. The endless retellings and versions of this story means that it is also one of the most popular Christmas stories of all time. Unlike other stories about plucky kids accidentally left home alone, lonely divorcees becoming Santa Claus and flying reindeer guiding Santa’s sleigh, this story is a real adult story. It has layered characters and profound character development. It grabs us by the throat and demands that we recognize ourselves in it. This small book has had more impact over the years than many a turgid and popular bestseller. One reason is because it is such an effective mirror, showing us views of ourselves.
We have all been Bob Cratchit, whether working for a skinflint, unappreciative boss, maybe being responsible for a family in difficult times or perhaps even caring for a beautiful child with devastating health problems. We have all been a Fezziwig of a sort, putting aside mundane work-a-day cares to celebrate, rejoice in the beauty of being alive and just have FUN.
And we have all been Scrooge, at least a little bit. Some misfortunes in our past put us into a permanent survival mode. Afraid. Willing to hurt others and cut ourselves off from society because of being afraid. Possibly having some blind good luck in finding love along the way, and then losing it due to some permutation of that early habit of fear. Continuing on alone, the habit of fear and individual survival at all cost never broken or enlarged to include a group beyond ourselves, never growing to encompass any group or a society. Grimly determined to survive at all costs and thus increasing those costs.
For some of us, some miracle, accident or other intervention in our lives shakes us up and makes us realize that we’ve lost our way, wasted part of our lives, made mistakes. Those of us lucky enough to have gotten the message and acted on it look back on those lost times with a shudder of horror and count ourselves blessed to have had a second chance. Scrooge is about all of us because we have all needed an undeserved second chance, at some point.
Everyone wants to be redeemed, to have a magnificent life that they would be proud of. There’s a line in the 1988 movie Scrooged, where Frank Cross says that Christmas is the time when “For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be”. Dickens’ story has stood the test of time because it is the ultimate redemption story of a sad, mundane character getting a second chance and seizing it for dear life.