Springtime in Winter

December 22, 2004 | 6 comments
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After you try your hand at composing a haiku, take a chance on writing a Christmas story. All you have to do is supply the ending: a crotchety old cop is assigned to supervise a Christmas shopping trip for two needy kids, and after grudgingly performing the act of service he finds himself–you guessed it, of course–pondering the true meaning of Christmas, experiencing a change of heart, and arriving at the children’s doorstep Christmas morning laden with gifts and treats.

During the festive ritual space between Thanksgiving and Christmas, everyone loves to hate Scrooge. All rituals require myth, and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol supplies the narrative–the beginning, middle, and end, the good guys and bad guys–of contemporary Christmas. The present-day Scrooge, like his partner Marley, roams the Christmas season thinly disguised as the Grinch or more subtly rendered as the narrator of Christmas Box; Scrooge is alive, to begin with. Each new version of the Carol registers a new set of collective anxieties, shared values, and cultural contradictions, and in this sense Scrooge himself is the truest ghost of Christmas present.

When Dickens relocated the Christmas festival of agrarian feudalism to the industrialized city, he intended neither to rescue Christmas from frowning Puritan sobriety nor to transform the holiday into a frenzied seasonal circus of buying and spending. Rather, he wrote the story in response to an 1843 expose of child labor abuses, the miserable revelation of which properly shocked middle-class Victorians. The Carol represents Dickens’ imaginative resolution of the real contradictions–the horrific images of naked children pulling coal carts twice their size to which they were chained in mine shafts to narrow for the children to stand–under which industrializing England labored.

For Dickens, the most egregious social problem turns out to be the economic alienation dissolving human relationships at the levels of class, family, and individual; like Shylock, Scrooge’s miserly prototype who cannot distinguish between his ducats and his daughter, Scrooge cannot conceive of human relationships in non-economic terms. Concepts like “family” and “community,” describing nonmarket relationships, have no meaning for Scrooge. And if economic alienation causes social machinery to seize up, then love allows it to run smoothly–according to the Carol. For Dickens, Christmas works as a sacralized time set apart from the rest of the year, a time of transformation during which the law of love replaces the iron laws of economics, allowing social good and self-interest to coexist. Christmastime abundance–represented in the astonishing excess of the marketplace and in Dickens’ own linguistic abundance–replaces the scarcity model that governs the unredeemed Scrooge. In the copious world of the Carol, supply always exceeds consumption, so that the laws of supply and demand need not pinch the pockets of generous Christmas givers. Christmas is reimagined from the perspective of affluence as a universal festival of giving and getting among the new urban family, a unit not linked by blood or property but imagined as a microcosm of the human economic community. The story of Scrooge, then, suggests that social reform must be achieved through personal conversion, for the Carol, after all, is the quintessential urban conversion narrative. In enacting Scrooge’s Christmastime conversion, the Carol links the Easter springtime narrative of spritual death and rebirth to the Christmas winter ritual.

6 Responses to Springtime in Winter

  1. Shawn Bailey on December 22, 2004 at 3:13 pm

    Richard Wilkins, a BYU law professor who plays a memorable Scrooge each year at the Hale Center Theatre in Salt Lake, has written along these lines in the Clark Memorandum (the law school’s alumni mag).

    If you are interested, go to http://www.jrcls.org/Law_Society/publications/clark_memorandum.htm. The article is in the Fall 2002 issue.

  2. Brian G on December 22, 2004 at 6:59 pm

    Every year we’re reminded of the great characters, Scrooge, Marley, Cratchit, and Tiny Tim.

    But there is an under-recognized character in A Christmas Carol that represents how cold economic necessity doesn’t necessarily have to drive away the warm personal connections that humans need in the workplace. It’s Mr. Fezziwig, or more accurately it’s Mr. Fezziwig and his equally fun-loving wife, Mrs. Fezziwig. Although the Christmas party they throw for their employees isn’t the scene fans of A Christmas Carol remember most, it does mark the first step in Scrooge’s conversion, forcing Scrooge to remark, “I should like to be able to say a word or two to my clerk just now.�

    It’s the Fezziwigs who take Marley’s and Dickens’ advice and make mankind their business. Having recently been given managerial responsibility where I work, I try to hold Mr. Fezziwig up as a model of successful management. After they re-witness the party, the Ghost baits Scrooge by calling it, “A small matter to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.�

    A still unrepentant Scrooge had this to say, “Small!…He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome, a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lives in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add or count them, what then? The happiness he gives is as important as if it had cost a fortune.â€? Those words are something to think about if you have the privilege of directing the work of others.

  3. David King Landrith on December 23, 2004 at 1:44 am

    Rosalynde Welch: All you have to do is supply the ending:

    I don’t have time for a complete ending, but I can contribute a little to the story. If nobody else wants to add anything, I’ll just complete it myself when I have the time.

    Doo Dropped In

    [A] crotchety old cop is assigned to supervise a Christmas shopping trip for two needy kids, and after grudgingly performing the act of service he finds himself–you guessed it, of course–pondering the true meaning of Christmas, experiencing a change of heart, and arriving at the children’s doorstep Christmas morning laden with gifts and treats.

    Officer Doo carefully balanced the gifts and treats with which he was laden. He freed one hand, stretched forward slightly, and rang the doorbell. He didn’t hear anything, so after a few moments, he moved closer to the door and knocked as hard as he could with his encumbered arm. The door drifted open. The lights were off, and there was silence. Doo called inside through the open door and received no answer.

    Doo placed the gifts and and treats with which he was laden on the the children’s doorstep, radioed for backup, drew his gun, crouched in his defensive stance, and slowly entered the house. Doo heard a noise, and just as he turned toward it a flying rock struck him in the forehead. He fell flat. His gun slid across the floor. He rolled over to find a garishly dressed transvestite standing over him holding a hatchet. Doo kneed him in the groin, kicked his legs out from under him, and rolled away from the transvestite. Slowly, he came to his feet.

    Doo arose next to a credenza, on which a fresh cheese had been placed. Doo grabbed the cheese knife, and moved toward the groaning transvestite, who gradually made himself erect. Two more freaks entered the room. The first wore a bear shaped body-suit and had Indian war paint on his face. The second wore a padded, striped bumble-bee outfit. Both of them brandished knives.

    Damnable freaks! thought Doo, I’m not going to make this easy for them. The transvestite lunged at Doo, who struck back decisively with his knife in the transvestite’s ribs. Without removing the knife, Doo brought him in close, kneed him in the face, and dropped him. The remaining freaks rushed Doo. He ducked and threw the Indian war-bear flying over his head, and downed the bumble-bee with a sharp kick to the knee.

    The blood dripping from Doo’s wounded forehead now covered his eyes and impaired his vision. He lashed out at the dark bumble-bee shaped figure that arose in front of him, and at that same moment it ducked and came in low against Doo. Doo’s knife sliced deep into bumble-bee’s face, and it instantly recoiled.

    Doo swung around. He felt a blade break his flesh just above the elbow as he grabbed his opponent’s wrist. Twisting and moving it outward, the Indian war-bear shrank in pain. Someone jumped on Doo’s back from behind and Doo bent forward throwing the bumble-bee to the ground. A blade cut into Doo’s chest and he stabbed the bumble-bee on the ground in the neck.

    Doo wiped the blood from his eyes and surveyed his cuts. The one above his elbow was quite deep, but small. The cut across his chest was longer and not nearly so deep. I’m fine for now, but one more would have meant curtains, he thought. Once he caught his breath, he picked up his gun…

  4. Ivan Wolfe on December 23, 2004 at 11:08 am

    A fresh take on the Scrooge story (By way of Ayn Rand):

    http://techcentralstation.com/122304D.html

    brief excerpt:

    It’s Christmas time, and that means it’s time to enjoy A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens’ melancholy tale of a productive businessman who gets worked over by three meddling supernatural social workers one Christmas Eve, transforming him into a simpering socialist . . . The ruggedly handsome and weirdly articulate Ebeneezer Scrooge is a successful executive held back by the corrupt morality of a society that hates success and fails to understand the value of selfishness. So Scrooge explains that value in a 272-page soliloquy. Deep down, Scrooge’s enemies know that he is right, but they resent him out of a sense of their own inferiority. Several hot sex scenes and unlikely monologues later, Scrooge triumphs over all adversity — except a really mean review by Whittaker Chambers. Meanwhile, Tiny Tim croaks. Socialized medicine is to blame.

    There are other good ones on this site. Here’s a few:

    M. Night Shyamalan: In a completely unexpected twist, it turns out that Scrooge is the dead one, and the “ghosts” are actually the people that he’s haunting.

    CBS News: After the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future issue their independent review report, Scrooge grudgingly admits that his remarks about prisons, workhouses, and “the surplus population” were inadequately sourced. Scrooge takes no further action. Tiny Tim dies. Scrooge runs a five-part series on “England’s Impending Health Care Crisis.

    Tom Wolfe: We meet Ebeneezer Scrooge over 300 pages of incisive descriptions of life in 19th century London, complete with overwrought now-Now!-NOW! New Journalism affectations. The tale proceeds swimmingly until halfway through the Ghost of Christmas Future sequence, at which point the story just sort of ends.

    follow the link adn read the whole thing!!

  5. Charles on December 23, 2004 at 11:30 am

    My story would center around 3 American college students studying abroad for a fall semester. One is a geology student, focusing on precious metals and the other two are biologists with an emphasis on botany with a penchant for African and Arabian trees.

    These three loose thier passports and visas during thier last week and are unable to return home for the holidays. The US Embassy cannot help them without thier passports due to the beaurocratic hum bug. A serries of unfortunate events puts them on the defense as they run from the local authorites. They were broke and desperate.

    The students recall one of their guides and chaperones, a retired carpenter. His stories of his family’s excile had encouraged and entertained the class during the trip. He was epsecially excited because, in spite of his and his wife’s age they were expecting their first born child in early January. The man was kind and gentle and surely he could help them. They decide to seek him out.

    After finding his home they discover he and his wife have traveld northward to see a specialist about thier unborn child. They don’t know where exactly so they follow the north star, befriending shepards and farmers all the way.

    They eventually find the couple wandering the streets pained. They have been unable to find a vancant room and the hospital, beaurocrats again, are not admiting them until thier doctor gets back from vacation to verify thier status. Using thier relationship with the shepards and farmers the college students secure a warm vacant barn from one of the shepards for the couple. They struggle with the childbirth and for the childs first birthday, no surprise its December 25th right, the students slip the child a gold neclace, an heirloom from the geologist, and perfume and cologne from the botanists for the mother and father.

  6. David King Landrith on December 24, 2004 at 10:19 pm

    Since nobody seems interested in finishing my addition to Rosalynde’s beginning, here’s the ending I promised.

    Doo Dropped In, Part II

    Back in his defensive stance, Officer Doo carefully entered the room from which he’d seen two of the freaks enter. He visually swept it, all the while poised with his gun. Bang! Bang! Bang! he said to himself as he imagined shooting into a room filled with armed perpetrators.

    But nobody was in the room. It was strewn with cables, computers, monitors, printers, and boxes. It had all the earmarks of a hastily setup desktop publishing operation. Doo looked down into a box half filled with booklets, and picked one up. The title read, “An Insiders Guide to the Race War.” It was 19 pages. Racist freaks! I knew they were up to no good, thought Doo. He slipped one into his pocket.

    Doo continued through the room and up the stairs to the second floor of the house. He heard muffled shouts emanating from the last door on the left. He crept down the hallway, put his hand on the doorknob, opened the door, threw it open, flew in. In the room sat the two children for whom he’d brought gifts. They were bound and gagged.

    Outside, sirens blared and several police cars arrived. Doo used his walkie-talkie to explain the situation. Moments later, other cops were sweeping the house. Doo untied the children, and they both hugged him.

    “Thanks for saving us, Officer Doo.”

    “Wait. It gets better,” he said. He led them downstairs to the children’s doorstep where he’d left the presents he’d come laden with. “Everything’s going to be alright, kids,” he said.

    “But what about the race war?” they asked.

    Doo held up the booklet he’d grabbed. “This little gem will help us prevent that. There’ll be no race war this Christmas!”

    The End