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So that was Christmas.

Like most people who grew up in Western culture, Christmas was always my favorite holiday. Not just for the gifts, but for the excitement -- the bustling of families getting together, kids who hadn't seen each other since last Christmas, the family dinners, the expectations around the presents. It was a time of year when people seemed more in concert, more likely to be kind, a time when people who the rest of the year ignored their fellows were likely to speak to complete strangers, wishing them a "Merry Christmas."

It wasn't until I started performing in A Christmas Carol about 15 years ago that I focused more on the societal impact of post Dickens Christmas, which is the whole people-actively-trying-to-be-their-best-relating-to-their-fellow-humans thing.

As many may not know, that wasn't always the case. In fact, Christmas wasn't much of a holiday until Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, which he re-imagined as an example of humans at their best, and which he used as a platform for his social activism. Dickens said that in a society so abundant, so full of wealth and prosperity, should we not use that prosperity to help those less fortunate, should we not take the commonality of humanity that we say we feel during Christmas and feel it all year 'round? Why would any caring person restrict that caring to one brief period of the year? Are not the destitute that we gladly give change to at Christmas, the homeless we donate food to at Christmas, the cold we help comfort during this time of year just as hungry, homeless and suffering all the rest of the year? Dickens proposed to a selfish, classist, "If they'd rather die, then they'd better do it and decrease the surplus population" industrial England that it is not a question of those that have more then enough denying themselves the fruits of their labors, it is about enjoying them that much more by sharing them in ways that make the world a better place.

Unfortunately, Dickens's story of universal good will has been reduced to the story of one cranky old guy who, if only he would change, everything would be better. Television, film and theatrical adaptation after adaptation of this masterpiece of social activism shows a jolly old London, full of smiling, generous people giving money and comfort to the poor, with Scrooge as the sole holdout when it comes to kindness. But that was not the London Dickens was writing about. Dickens was writing about a society much closer to the one we have now -- a society where the affluent see those less fortunate as less deserving, where the Tech nouveau riche can propose exile for the inconvenient and unsightly homeless, where workers crushed by debt and struggling to feed their families are seen as detestable, but necessary cogs in the machine that creates the fabulous wealth of the very few.

Today's audiences have been convinced to identify with the wealthy so they focus on Scrooge's redemption, satisfied they are not as bad as he was, and joyous at his redemption. What they should be recognizing, however, is that the vast majority of them are Bob Cratchit -- the poor, hard working person whose child is dying because of a lack of healthcare. The Cratchits are struggling to feed their family. The Cratchits are struggling to pay their rent and worry each day how they are going to have enough to keep their lives and family together. The Cratchits are us, and the sooner we realize our commonality the sooner we will understand how little we have in common with the Scrooges.

And in a corporate society that has elevated the selfish few to dazzling star status -- celebrating the Scrooges who derive their wealth from the underpaid and undervalued labor of the Cratchits -- we must recognize our commonality, our worth and how we can, through economic power and sheer numbers, make this country a place where the labor of the Cratchits benefits the Cratchits, rather than a place that simply enriches the Scrooges in hopes that they may at some point trickle a little of our hard-earned money back down on us. We also need to recognize that anyone -- especially those in the media -- who tries to alienate we Cratchits from each other for the benefit and profit of the Scrooges should should be treated not benign, but as a threat to our lives, our children, to our Tiny Tims.

No person with the means to alleviate suffering who instead denigrates those who suffer, who think that whatever luck or talent that they've benefitted from makes them a superior breed, who think that because they designed a killer app, or bought low and sold high, who off-shored jobs while their competitors still paid living wages, no one who thinks the moment of luxury they are enjoying relieves them of their responsibility to their fellow humans and the planet should be held up as an example of anything, but sociopathic greed, as a Scrooge.

And while love, generosity and forgiveness may be infinite, they should be showered on those most deserving first, those most in need of it -- our fellow Crachits who, under the strain of a corporate world at war with the workers, are suffering terribly. The real-world Scrooges we see lionized each day in the "business section" of the paper, on the covers of celebrity magazines, or held up as glittering wizards of technology should, as in Dickens's classic, be given one chance to become contributors to the welfare of their fellows. After that, they must be shunned, shamed and resisted as the profit-obsessed obstacles to the happiness of the rest of us -- the multitude of Crachits.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pinto Pony, kevinpdx, ramara, Greyhound, marykk

    "Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices." Voltaire

    by Michael Gene Sullivan on Tue Dec 31, 2013 at 11:48:18 AM PST

  •  I was going to comment (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Alexandra Lynch, marykk

    anyway, because I hate it when I post a diary and the tip jar remains the only comment. But I find I really like your thoughts about Dickens' social activism and the Cratchits, and the underlying exploitation of Christmas.

    I'm a reader of Dickens, and other writers from Victorian England. In Pride and Prejudice, there is a Christmas visit to the Bennets from their aunt and uncle Gardiner, who leave their children at home. Recently I read an explanation in an essay that this would not have been considered strange to Austen's readers, since Christmas was not celebrated in any special way, and was not considered a children's holiday at all.

    With modern eyes, A Christmas Carol is a story of redemption, but to me, knowing how seriously Dickens took the exploitation and abuse of children, it is also the story of Scrooge's loveless early life, with separation from and then the death of the sister he did love.

    The background of early Victorian London includes all this as well as the gross economic Darwinism that pervaded England, and the poor laws and debtor's prisons and workhouses. There wasn't much that medical practice could do for anyone yet, but Tiny Tim could have been helped by better nourishment and cleaner conditions, which is what we must assume Scrooge eventually provided. And Tiny Tim was the foil for the child Scrooge had been, surrounded by love as he was.

    Thanks so much for this diary, and the chance to look at an old story in a new way.

    Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

    by ramara on Tue Dec 31, 2013 at 02:33:31 PM PST

  •  Another example of what went wrong in America. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ramara, marykk

    We all, but especially America because of its lack of experience, still suffer from the horrendous damage that Victorianism did to the world.

    It is simply evil. It has no redeeming qualities.

    Our education system is based and built on the principles of that time, and therefore produces the same shit results.

    "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." - Voltaire

    by Greyhound on Tue Dec 31, 2013 at 03:50:30 PM PST

  •  A terrific bit of analysis, Michael (0+ / 0-)

    thanks for posting.

    If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

    by marykk on Wed Jan 01, 2014 at 06:52:37 AM PST

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