Everyone knows the story of A Christmas Carol backwards and forwards. Pick a version by decade and you’re bound to find one you love. Everyone can claim to have seen a big or a small screen version of it.
But have you ever read it?
I confess it never passed in front of my eyes until I was an adult. It was during one of my first Christmas seasons alone — a bleak time when I felt more than sorry for myself for being alone at Christmas. I picked up the book in a store and thought I could wallow in Scrooge’s misery for a while.
The written words of Dickens stunned me. While I was a prolific reader I was never one for classic literature. Fiction especially was something I largely stayed away from. Perhaps it was too much forced reading of Shakespeare in school that made me this way or maybe I’m just too shallow in this area to really appreciate the talents of those who can produce it. But Dickens surprised me. From page one he had me hooked.
As I read the book I found myself wanting to perform what I was reading. In fact, in the dark of a lonely apartment I did that in parts all by myself. What I found was not Scrooge’s misery but rather his redemption. My lonely Christmas was not so lonely after all as long as I had my Dickens.
And so it has become my adult tradition, every first week of December, to pick up Dickens and read at any moment of leisure I can find. I admit that some years I don’t get to pick it up enough.
Why does it have such a hold on me?
I think because it is absent of almost anything traditional about Christmas within it. Which is odd to say, because A Christmas Carol in its own right is traditional.
None of its characters were motivated by gifts or greed or excess. Each of them carried a more pure approach to Christmas, even Scrooge, who insisted to his nephew that “you keep Christmas in your way and I’ll keep it in mine”.
Reading Dickens made me a critic of every stage show and screen version of A Christmas Carol I had seen. Productions that I had once thought as favorites became less favored after reading Dickens. In fact, short of scripture, I’ve become somewhat devoted to the text and I cringe when I see or hear something that strays from it.
When it comes to Christmas, I’m a Dickens purist.
Of course, my Christmas season is otherwise filled with the culture that makes up Christmas. Music from The Nutcracker, classic movies like White Christmas and, of course, anything Christmas and musical performed by my children is always a part of my holidays. Of course, I also absorb each year the retelling of Luke Chapter 2.
But those are all more public endeavors. My annual date with Dickens is just for me.
And it never fails to anchor my season. It never fails to inspire. And it never fails to remind me that I won’t have time to do everything Christmas that I want to do — and that I should enjoy that Christmas I am able to do.
If you want your Christmas season put into perspective, drag out your Dickens. You won’t regret making it a merry habit every first week of December.