It is fascinating to me that Christmas is such a widely celebrated holiday. Mostly for two reasons. First, I am Southern European, tradition there dictates that Christmas is celebrated on January 6th, when the wisemen are believed to have visited baby Jesus at the manger. Funny thing about that story, most traditions state the wisemen visited Jesus when he was five years old, in Egypt! I suppose visiting a baby is far more awesome than visiting a five-year old, although reconciling the version of King Herod in the Bible with the traditions must have been a primordial duty of religious individuals since the 4th century CE; hence the conflict and the seemingly smooth story that follows the line of ‘pregnant mary-manger-wisemen visit.’ The second reason for my bewilderment is the fact that Christmas was a stolen pagan holiday. Traditional European Catholic households celebrate not only January 6th, but also Good Night on December 24th (the night Jesus was supposedly born) and Old Night on December 31st (the last night of the year). There are banquets, families get together, and reminisce about, well, nothing. We sit around at a table and tell green (off colored) jokes and make fun of grandpa.
Why the feast? The reason is pagans used to celebrate the coming and passing of the longest night of the year, December 21st, and celebrate the beginning of the end of Winter. Funny thing Winter just starts there, at that date; but that did not matter to the ancients. They had been storing crops for months, and this was a time to splurge and be happy about the future ahead. Thus, they celebrated for ten days smack dab in the middle of the Winter season. This ritual was so practiced in the ancient world at large, that it was one of the first things Catholic Christians took over in order to help convert pagans to their cause. You know, after they were done killing them for their beliefs.
You may ask, how is this related to Ebenezer Scrooge, Charles Dickens, and good examples of bad things? I was watching this video from the LDS Church and reading this article online by The Mirror, when I realized that a whole lot of people believe Christmas was revived (at the very least) by Charles Dickens, if not wholly invented by him (at most). I do what I always do and dwelt quite a bit on that idea. Trying to wrap my head around something that is so obviously incorrect entails far more than knowing the problem, it also entails attempting to understand the reason why the wrong solution makes sense to those who believe it so. When I saw the video from my own religion, I realized how thoroughly all-encompassing the story had become. We had a scrooge, a bunch of little kids, and crankiness beyond reason. The man realizes the error of his ways by seeing something he had never seen before. He becomes, by virtue of his change, no longer the evil of the story, but the benefactor. Christmas is not about the presents, it is about the change of the soul. It is not only important to note that people will see that video and think of Christmas, it is also important to note that people will see that video and be reminded of what Christmas is through the words of Charles Dickens. When a name becomes a verb, as in ‘don’t Scrooge Christmas’ or and adjective ‘don’t be a scrooge’ one has to give credit where credit is due.
Yes. Charles Dickens was awesome. He taught us the value of Christmas in a book about an angry and avaricious old man who turns his life around because he has visions of his past life, his current state, and the future. Hhhhhmmmm, but wait. Ebenezer Scrooge is the good guy? This is one of the reasons I love novels. You never know when the bad guy will actually turn out to be the hero of the story. A quick digression: in Hebrew, a ‘Ehben Ezar’ is a commemorative stone set by the Israelites after battles in order to be reminded of the fact that victory was owed to God, not man. We return to Dickens, and are reminded of Ebenezer and his reminding us of what Christmas is not. In order to remind us of what Christmas isn’t, there had to have been a belief, and a strong one at that, of what Christmas was; otherwise the metaphor would have been lost in those who read the book.
The irony: we do not usually think of Ebenezer as a good character even though we use him as a moralizing example to chastise our loved ones during the holiday season. Thus, if the memory of Christmas was strong in Dickens times and people understood Scrooge as a good figure, don’t the facts that we think Dickens the savior of Christmas and our understanding of Scrooge really speak to a loss of what Christmas is supposed to be and mean in our time? Have we become so entangled in modern thought that we no longer remember the true spirit of the season? Pagans, Catholics, Early Catholics, Dickens, Scrooge… they all spoke of Christmas as a season to be happy for the future, not to indulge the present with presents. Christmas was about looking forward, and being thankful that we would be able to spend that time with our loved ones. Gifts, well, they are just what happened when the celebration of happiness was lost to the gift giving of Christmas.
Thus, appreciate the value of a good bad character. Learn to enjoy, reader, the beauty of what is to come, rather than the passing of what is. Scrooge could not see the true meaning of Christmas until he learned to appreciate the passing of time; it is time we tried to do the same.