Haunted by the Christmas Spirit
They say the classics are classic for a reason. It would seem that Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has aged remarkably well. This simple tale of a wealthy miser who’s scared into philanthropy remains popular more than 175 years after its debut.
It endures despite — or perhaps because of — its unresolved plot threads. Did Scrooge keep his change of heart and continue his streak of generosity? Or did he return to his misanthropic ways? Why did the spirits target Scrooge out of all the oppressive business owners in London? And did his change of heart really mean anything in the long run?
A Christmas Carol is a classic not just for its profound themes but also for the deeper, unanswered questions.
Existential Dread: the Perfect Christmas Gift
Christmas, the holiday that emerged from dozens of disparate traditions, has apparently become an occasion for redemption and personal growth, as well as restoration and salvation. But Jesus’ birth story is relatively mild in terms of its mysticism. Except for the heavenly host, all the characters are human.
The nativity tale emphasizes grace and hope, but let’s be honest, it’s also a bit bleak. The story of a forlorn couple being forced to shelter in a barn kinda detracts from the overall magic. It’s an oddly mixed ethos, blending existentialist dread with supernatural beings who could do a lot more to help.
Thank goodness for the angels who guided the Magi there, but who was making sure Jesus and his parents didn’t starve to death? It’s ultimately a survivalist story with the twist ending that the baby would become someone very important.
This duality between reckoning and desolation also appears in A Christmas Carol, as well as many other stories about redemption in the face of our mortality.
The classic film It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) plays on this theme in a decidedly existentialist way. Protagonist George Bailey prepares to end his life on Christmas Eve, but an angel named Clarence (sorry, still laughing about that) intervenes. To prove to George that his existence matters, Clarence shows him a reality in which he was never born. Of course…