Dickens and Turning Traditions

As we move into Advent, we move into a period of expectantly waiting for the feast of Christmas and the new year, when calendars turn over and a new decade begins. At saint benedict’s table, we save Christmas carols till the season of Christmas. Advent is a special season at saint ben’s, and waiting for the happy celebration of Christmas makes it all the sweeter.
The rest of the world does not wait. With the end of Halloween and Spooky Season comes a brief respite leading to Remembrance Day, before heading into the solstice holidays. With that comes rampant consumerism, Hallmark movies, Christmas Specials, and the endless adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
I love A Christmas Carol. Dickens’ moral writing spins language so deftly, examining character through movement and shape. All adaptations seem to fall short (with the exception of A Muppet Christmas Carol). The story gets shaped and reshaped into a mockery of the original, losing the sense of the charitable humility that comes with Christmas, not just the feeling of goodwill for the universe.
Dickens’ version is dark, whispering a prophecy in a scene often cut from sentimental adaptations in which the feeble and grotesque incarnations of Greed and Want peer out from the bottom of the Ghost of Christmas Present’s robe. These incarnations of selfishness are small, wizened children, but in today’s consumer-driven Christmas, have become fully-realized giants, as gift-giving seems to outshine all else when it comes to the holidays.
This scene is scrubbed from film adaptations because the downside of Christmas is inconvenient if you want people to buy their way to a Merry Christmas. The classic tale is sanitized to an inch of its life to be consumable on a capitalist scale, much like the Bible itself.
The “Christmas Spirit” is hard won through a careful excavation of Scrooge’s soul. Like a dream, he experiences too much for one night, seeming to leave the natural world for a place which doesn’t abide by the natural rules, kind of like Christmas itself.
We crawl through Advent every year to the feast of Christmas. There is so much preparation that goes into a single day, and that day has so much activity and fullness that it resembles no other day during the year. The season has its own music, which, when played at other times during the year, seems anachronistic and wrong. A Christmas Carol, and all of the Hallmark movies will tell you, that Christmas time is different. The attitude is different. It requires cheer and a charitable attitude.

“‘Nephew!’ returned the uncle sternly, ‘keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.’
‘Keep it!’ Repeated Scrooge’s nephew. ‘But you don’t keep it.’
‘Let me leave it alone, then,’ said Scrooge. ‘Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!’
‘There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,’ returned the nephew. ‘Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to the sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it and be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable pleasant time; the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open up their shut up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe it has done me good and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!’”

Christmas time makes its own rules. Time may be an illusion, but the day of Christmas, if you are fortunate to share it, always feels like a week as opposed to a day. And the days leading up to it seem to stretch out to take up more room than any regular week. It has its own songs, its own clothing, its own food. The holidays change everything from Starbucks cups to the meridian of Portage Avenue.
Christmas always feels set in stone. These are the things you do, the people you see, the food that you eat. I’m more mindful of the change of the past year around Christmas than I am at any other time.

When I was growing up, my mother would sneak into our rooms at night on Christmas Eve with our stockings, which were usually some of my dad’s old long socks. My brother, sister, and I would wake up in the morning, take our stockings into our parents’ room, and sit on the bed to open up our stockings one by one. At no other time of the year would all five of us clamber onto my parents’ bed.
As a single person, I’m the only one left to crawl on my parent’s bed Christmas morning. My sister has her own kids, who come to her bed with their own stockings to open them. But, the first year after my brother died, it felt wrong for him not to be there on Christmas morning. It felt wrong that he wasn’t there opening presents, sitting around the table, or wearing his Christmas crown. But, most of all, I missed crowding onto my parents’ bed, to the point where my dad would shift to make room almost to the point of falling off. I remember my brother every year as we open our stockings, and I will remember him every Christmas I ever see.
When the Earth turns around and we find ourselves in the same places, sharing the same special activities we do once a year, the empty spaces are a reminder of what was, what isn’t, and what will continue not to be. Christmas is a season that forces us to remember what we can’t have again: “‘These are but shadows of the things that have been,’ said the Ghost. ‘They have no consciousness of us.’”
For the past 15 years or so, I have gone to the Cambridge Vineyard Church for Christmas Eve. It’s the one night a year I see my two closest friends from growing up, Dan and Amanda. We make the pilgrimage home, like Joseph, spend Christmas Eve at a church we have outgrown, and then have dinner together after. But all traditions must come to an end. This year, Dan and Amanda are likely not returning home, and Christmas feels ruptured, with an unknown future. New traditions will have to be formed. The world goes on, Christmas arrives, but we are not the same.

“‘You may—the memory of what is past half makes me hope you will—have pain in this. A very, very brief time, and you will dismiss the recollection of it, gladly, as an unprofitable dream, from which it happened well that you awoke. May you be happy in the life you have chosen!’
[Belle] left him, and they parted.
‘Spirit!’ said Scrooge, ‘show me no more! Conduct me home. Why do you delight to torture me?’”

As lonely as the world can seem at Christmas, as destabilizing as the endings of relationships or traditions can be, Christmas morning marks the beginning of a time of reset. Yes, there are Christmases past that you cannot return to, as much as you may try, but come the morning, there is something new. The year runs out, we turn to one another, and this year we turn to a new decade.
As the year runs out, the world turns over and continues on, Christmas can be beautiful and wonderful, but it marks what we have and what we have wanted to gain. Yet, that’s into the end, and, as we wait for Christmas, the bells ring again. Scrooge can buy the prize goose and send it to the Cratchits.
Hannah Foulger is a British Canadian theatre artist and writer. Her disability poetry has been published in Blue Mountain Press’ Disabled Voices anthology and performed in Sick + Twisted Theatre’s Lame Is… cabaret. Her plays Clink and My Frozen Heart: A Comic Tragedy have been produced at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. She lives on Treaty 1 Territory in Winnipeg, Manitoba. 

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