A Christmas Carol has been my favorite Christmas movie for as long as I remember. However for the last several years I have been discovering other movies — A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, The Year Without a Santa Claus — and other classics that I never saw when I was a kid. I finally got around to purchasing the George Scott version of A Christmas Carol, and when I watched it this year I saw it much through different eyes than I did as a child.
My earliest memory of the film (I don’t remember if it was the George Scott version or the earlier black and white one) was from watching it at school. I don’t remember what grade. But what I do remember is making paper chains like the ones kids usually make to count down the days until Christmas. But instead of a Christmas calendar we were making a Marley chain — reflecting on our actions and what bad deeds might be included in our chain to drag around the world like old Marley after we die. After all the story is a morality tale and the lesson should be to reflect on our behavior and make sure we are behaving properly and not adding to our chain of guilt. We should be sorry and repent and change our ways — just like we were taught in church.
Maybe what it took for me was a bit of aging and life experience, but now I look back on that lesson and think what a terrible thing it was to have children focus on. It is part of the story. Perhaps the old lesson about behaving so you don’t get punished is on the level for school children. But there are other lessons here that are so much more positive.
As we learn the story of Ebenezer Scrooge from seeing his past, we learn he had a very difficult life when it came to relationships. His father hated him because his mother had died giving him birth. He loved his sister Fanny but hardly got to see her because his father had banished him to boarding school throughout his childhood. Then Fanny died at a young age. His first love left him because he was so intent on being ‘good enough’ for her in a financial way that he neglected their relationship.
The problem with Ebenezer Scrooge was not that he was a wicked greedy old miser. The problem was that he was lonely. He had gotten so used to being lonely that he continued to neglect the people in his life and instead chased the only value he knew — money.
I noticed it was not the fear of lugging a horrid chain post-mortem that lead him to repent. It was remembering what it was like to be joyful, to be in love, and to have a mentor who cared about his apprentices and celebrated with them. It was seeing the family of his employee Bob Cratchit and empathising with him and his family and his ill son. If fear ever was a factor, it was the fear of the future possibility of dying alone and unloved and despised — which unlike hell or heavy ghostly chains after death is a real possible consequence of a miserly life.
This is a story of the vital importance of love, and joy, and relationships — not about fear and guilt. Money is important — we need it to survive as the poorer characters in the story know well — but it is not the only thing that matters. Not even close. Relationships are the key to a happy and well-lived life.
Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so.
-Robert Green Ingersoll