On the other hand, the non-commercialized seasonal spirit of Christmas in many ways can be traced back to Charles Dickens’ novel, A Christmas Carol. Prior to that time Christmas was a religious holiday spent in the church. It was also losing its popularity among the public. Dickens’ came and changed the focus from the church to family, from somber observance to festive celebration and gift giving. The impact of that story is profound and is one of the most adapted stories of all time. My personal favorite is the 1951 version with Alastair Sim
His novel is a great contrast to the commercialization of Christmas. A Christmas Carol is about moral character development. The main protagonist; Ebenezer Scrooge goes through a tremendous growth of character that has come to be the embodiment of what is known as the “christmas spirit”. The source of that spirit is really the essence of Judaism.
Ebenezer Scrooge is an old miserly business man who thinks the whole Christmas day is ludicrous. It is nothing but humbug. On the eve of Christmas, his clerk Bob Cratchit hopes to be able to take the next day off with pay. Scrooge grants this only to keep with social custom, and considers it "a poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every 25th of December!" That evening he sits alone in an inn having his dinner. The man is extremely wealthy but when he is told that he’d have to pay for extra bread he cancels his request.
Later that night his deceased partner, Jacob Marley, comes to visit him. Jacob is wrapped in chains and explains that this chain was made link by link during his lifetime and he is doomed to carry it with him for eternity. Each link was forged as a result of his mistakes and selfishness while he was alive and he has come to tell Scrooge that his is even longer and heavier. Scrooge doesn’t understand as he views both himself and his partner as being good men, good men of business. Jacob wails that “mankind was our business”. He then informs Scrooge that it is not to late for him and that he is going to be visited by three spirits that night and then vanishes. Scrooge dismisses the occurrence as a result of indigestion.
The three angels that eventually come to visit are the angels of Christmas past, present and yet to come. The angel of the past comes and shows him images of his past when he spent Christmas with people that he loved and that loved him. However as time went on he began to change and develop his miserly and self absorbed habits. The next angel shows him some of those same people and how they are no longer involved in his life and those that are involved in his life he has no real regard for. Two families in particular are his nephew’s family and his clerk’s. His nephew is his sister’s son who died giving birth to him. He promised her that he would look after this child but shut him out when he married a women Scrooge deemed unworthy. And his clerk, Bob Cratchit who he pays a meager salary even though he has a large family including a son named Tiny Tim who suffers from some physical illness. Scrooge is told that Tiny Tim will die if he does not get medical attention. Both families are quite happy and actually feel for Scrooge.
Then comes the angel of the future. Now Scrooge is shown the culmination of his life and the choices he has made. No one mourns over his death. The only concern shown over his demise is who will get his wealth and possessions. Tiny Tim has succumb to his illness and died a young boy. And then finally he is shown the reality of his death, his tombstone. At this point Scrooge despairs that there is any hope for him but if he were to be allowed to live and go back then he will change and become a better person.
He then wakes up and realizes that this all happened in one night. His sheer joy overwhelms him and he commits himself to uphold his commitment to change. He sends an anonymous prize turkey to the Cratchit family for their holiday meal and then joins his nephew and asks his wife if she can possibly forgive such a stubborn foolish man. The next morning when Cratchit arrives a few minutes late Scrooge surprises him and asks if he can help Cratchit raise his family, especially Tiny Tim.
Scrooge does indeed do a total turnaround and becomes the embodiment of kindness and image of moral change. He goes on to treat everyone with kindness and generousity. He provides for Tiny Tim so that he doesn’t die and the story ends with the narrator quoting Tiny Tim; “God bless us, everyone!”. This is the antithesis of the commercialized celebration of Christmas. The story of Scrooge culminates with a spirit of giving whereas the commercialized attitude all to often turns into that of taking. “What am I going to get for Christmas?”
It is interesting, that although Coke is blamed for this commercialization, they are far from the greatest culprit. Commercialism is nothing more than marketing and salesmanship. The greatest salesman to ever exist was the one who brought us Christmas at the very beginning. The greatest salesman to ever exist was Paul.
The original Christians were all observant Jews. The only difference was they believed Jesus was the messiah. Paul was the first one that came up with the notion to market it to non-Jews. In all cases of sales one must promise something of value in return for something of value. The buyer is always hoping to obtain something of greater value at the cost of something of lesser value. Paul does just that.
In a world of paganism the Jews came along and said that there is one Infinite Being. While this may be intellectually sound it is not easy to relate to. How can one worship an object that some other person just built with his hands? Absurd! Yet, how can one have a relationship with a Being that is Infinite and can’t be seen, nor heard, nor touched? Additionally, this Infinite Being comes with a tremendous amount of demands in order to have this relationship. And finally, Judaism promises nothing. Judaism says the only thing that can be promised is opportunity. The opportunity to take responsibility for our choices and if we make the right choices and strive to be the best person we can possibly be by using our mind to learn, think and choose then there will be reward in kind. And that is exactly what Jacob Marley was telling Scrooge. The chains are result of our choices. We have to take responsibility for our choices and either live with them or fix them.
Paul responds to these problems with the greatest deal ever sold. He offers a man; Jesus. Here is the image of a human being that you can touch, look at, carry around in your pocket. An infinite abstract idea is to difficult to relate to? No problem, here is the image. Not a pagan image but an image that is the “manifestation” of the infinite. And as for all those demands? Not necessary. The only requirement is to accept that this man has fulfilled those obligations. Prior to that point the early Christians were observing the mitzvos. Paul came along and presented the notion that Jesus fulfilled them for us. And in return for that acceptance is eternal salvation. That’s a sales pitch! A promise of eternity in return for such a small price.
The notion that Jesus is the messiah, the son of God or even one of the three parts of the trinity is a tremendous theological problem for Judaism. However, I believe that the philosophical difference is a greater problem. The philosophical problem of Christianity is that it takes away one’s individual responsibility not only for oneself but for the world.
One of the greatest lines in the 1951 film is in the beginning when some charity collectors come to ask for some funds for the needy and poor. Scrooge asks why? Are there no prisons, are there no workhouses he asks. When they tell him that those institutions are working fine but there are some individuals that are unable to go to them and would rather die. Scrooge says “so be it and let them die and decrease the surplus population, it is not my business.” When this very line is thrown back at him by the angel of the present Scrooge shudders at the sound of it. Charles Dicken’s is conveying to us this notion that we are responsible for the world. Mankind is our business as Jacob Marley tells Scrooge.
Where did Dickens get this idea of personal responsibility? Judaism. Judaism taught the world that each one of us is obligated to morally grow. Judaism taught the world that each one of us has free will and that our lives are the culmination of those choices. Judaism said that each one of us is responsible to change the world and make it a better place. This individual responsibility is negated by the notion that all we have to do is accept some ideal but not to live by it. If all we have to have is our beliefs but no obligations then we are not responsible.
The lesson of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is very much a Jewish story. Scrooge teaches us that we are responsible. We are obligated to grow, to change and to take responsibility not only for our choices but for the world around us as well. The only difference is that it isn’t just one day a year.