COLUMN: Dickens, Scrooge and the message of A Christmas Carol

Imagining a meeting between the author and the main character of a well-loved story, 175 years later

The winter street scenes around British Columbia, with colourful lights and festive displays, are far removed from the wintery images of 19th-century London depicted in Charles Dickens’s novella, A Christmas Carol.

The novella was first published 175 years ago, on Dec. 19, 1843, and since that time it has never been out of print.

The story, set on a Christmas Eve night, is well-known as Ebenezer Scrooge, a miser, is visited by three ghosts during the night. In the morning, he discovers what it means to celebrate Christmas.

In the story, Christmas is downplayed, but here it is the biggest celebration of the year and from late November until early January, the signs of the season are everywhere.

RELATED: Mega’ holiday home displays using up more power: report

Imagine if Dickens and Scrooge could visit us here this year and observe the Christmas season here.

* * *

From their table at the rear of the coffee shop, the two men, now retired, sipped their tea in the late afternoon.

For a time, neither man spoke. Finally the slender man broke the silence. “Each year I dread this season a little more,” he said.

“Why, Ebenezer?” Charles Dickens asked. “At the end of our story, you promised to observe this season.”

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Scrooge recited the lines found near the end of the novella. “The story is told every year. People read the book, or see movies or stage plays.”

“Please, Ebenezer,” Charles Dickens replied. “Some of the movies and stage adaptations have been quite accurate.”

“Yes, that’s true. But there’s also the animated Disney version and the Flintstones version. The Muppets took a turn at it. And let’s not forget those Canadian Tire commercials in the 1980s and 1990s. Give like Santa and save like Scrooge.”

Dickens sipped his tea. “I had never intended for you to become an advertising gimmick. I am sorry,” he said. “Still, the story and its message are known.”

“Are they really?” Scrooge asked. “Have you read the news? Controversy over the lyrics of Baby, It’s Cold Outside made the headlines. There’s outrage because a city councillor in Victoria, B.C. wants to remove Christmas displays. And somehow the song Santa Baby, the movie Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and A Charlie Brown Christmas all generated some anger.”

RELATED: ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ yanked from some Canadian radio stations

RELATED: If you’re going to pull Baby It’s Cold Outside, pull these songs too, B.C. man writes

RELATED: B.C. city considers scrapping funds for Christmas decorations

“I suppose such things are to be expected when Christmas is such a big celebration,” Dickens said with a sigh.

“And here,” Scrooge flipped through the pages of a newspaper. “Pictures of gift drives and donations to food banks.”

“Much better than in our day,” Dickens says to Scrooge.

“If these people understood and believed your message, then they would show generosity all through the year, not just in December.”

Scrooge turned the page and pointed to another story. “The richest in this province have a net worth nearly 6,000 times that of the median middle-income homes,” he said. Then, pointing to another story, added, “There are almost 8,000 homeless people in British Columbia. How can a society with such inequalities claim to honour Christmas?”

RELATED: Nearly 8,000 homeless in B.C., first province-wide count reveals

RELATED: B.C. billionaires worth 5,845 times average middle-income household

“Yes I know,” Dickens said. “Still, I choose to find hope in the fact that there are food banks and gift drives. There is a spirit of charity. And perhaps in future, that spirit will show itself throughout the year. I shall never stop hoping.”

Their tea finished, the two men slowly stood up, put on their coats and hats and left the coffee shop. The streets were dark now, illuminated by street lamps and Christmas lights.

“Shall we meet here again next year, my friend?” Dickens asked.

Scrooge nodded. “Of course, Charles. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas to you too,” Dickens said.

* * *

As the two men disappear into the darkness, I am left wondering how I, like Scrooge, can “honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

North Coast BC NDP MLA Incumbent is seen with her wife Andrea Wilmot and their son Lua, as well as their dog Duncan. Preliminary results on election night Oct. 24 show Rice is in for a third term. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Jennifer Rice is North Coast MLA for third term

Preliminary election results show NDP Majority government

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

Poppy donation boxes have been delivered to restaurants, cafes, stores and places of businesses in Prince Rupert by the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 127 for the 2020 National Poppy Campaign. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
National poppy campaign restricted by COVID-19

Prince Rupert Royal Canadian legion expects less donations to offer vital assistance to local vets

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Provincial Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau speaks at Provincial Green Party headquarters at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe in Victoria. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)
VIDEO: Furstenau leads BC Greens to win first riding outside of Vancouver Island

Sonia Furstenau became leader of BC Greens one week before snap election was called

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Most Read