Dare I write again of Christmas?
Has not the season and all its tinsel been packed up for another year, making room for the sappy Valentines already laid on commercial shelves?
Well, my dear fellow papists, the Christmas season is not yet ready to be boxed up until the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, Jan. 10. And if you are a real traditional mackerel snapper, as the English used to call us, the season of joy and celebration stretches out even further, to the Presentation of Our Lord, Feb. 2. (And they say Catholics are overly concerned with penance.)
So how does a Catholic continue celebrating the Incarnation once the Christmas tree becomes a fire hazard and all the treats have been eaten? Well, besides the more obvious ways – still listening to, or better yet singing, Christmas hymns, keeping the tree up until Epiphany, lighting candles placed by the nativity, and perhaps making just one more batch of butter tarts – may I suggest a little Dickens?
A Christmas Carol has long been a tradition in the Roy household. Every Advent, Scott grabs our mass-market paperback, while the kids loll on the couches, and begins the story. He aims to finish by Christmas Eve.
It is an expected event that builds Christmas anticipation, and the kids love to say the lines they have memorized along with Scrooge. Sometime in the weeks of Christmas we watch the movie. Of course, Alastair Sim’s is the classic, but I will risk the appearance of unorthodoxy by telling you that our usual favourite is, truly, The Muppets Christmas Carol. There, I said it. Judge me if you must.
This year we even recorded a copy of the radio show as a gift for Scott’s dad. You can see that the story is a large part of our season.
The story itself is kind of a Catholic joke that God played on the Puritans, as Christmas in England hadn’t been properly celebrated since before the Reformation. After Henry VIII broke from the Church to further his career in divorce, many versions of Christianity began to bloom. Within a hundred short years, Puritans actually criminalized the celebration of Christmas in the once-devout nation.
It was eventually made legal, of course, to honour the birth of Christ, but it continued to smell too much of St. Peter and his followers for many to really care enough to observe.
The Industrial Revolution helped to suppress the Mass of Christ. As there was so much work to be done, employers found it highly impractical to give workers time off for a Catholic observance. “Humbug!”
But Dickens’ story conquered in bringing Christmas back to the Protestant English.
Our enjoyment of the story goes beyond the fact that it helped conquer anti-Christmas sentiment. The story is full of Catholic beauty. It shares the sorrow of life and humanity with the joys of those who have conquered their own selfishness.
Scrooge lived a hard life, with much suffering that leads to selfish ruin through fear and godlessness. He forfeits his joy, human affections, and soul for earthly survival.
His conversion begins with Marley’s honest confession, “I wear the chain I forged in life.”
Each and every chain link that weighs Scrooge down in suffering as he travails the earth as a haunt is a link he himself placed by his own greed and malice. He chose himself, and in return chose misery.
Scrooge is shown other people who also suffer in the hardness of life. His employee Bob Cratchit suffers trying to provide food for his family in his poverty, bearing the cold of his coal-less fireplace, and enduring the cold heart of his employer.
Cratchit goes home to suffer the seemingly inevitable loss of his son. But in their suffering, the Cratchits are given the gift of love. They choose gratitude, hope, and celebration, despite their hardships. What little they have they give thanks for, even toasting the loathsome Scrooge, “Founder of the feast, indeed!”
It is the reality of sin that has shrivelled Scrooge into a loathsome, lonely wretch, and it is the goodwill and forgiveness of his nephew, as well as the innocence and joy Scrooge sees in Tim, that starts to melt the ice around his heart.
A Christmas Carol is a story of good conquering evil – of salvation. And Scrooge’s reaction to that salvation when he awakes on Christmas morning is worthy of imitation: elation, childlike joy, generosity, selflessness, sober dedication to amending his life, tears, dancing, laughing, caring, loving.
These are the Catholic signs of salvation. And they are worth honouring in our hearts, and keeping all the year.