Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Give Like Scrooge

With Christmas on the way, all kinds of local holiday treats are planned. Scrooge, the play, will be held at the school auditorium the next two weekends. The new Disney movie starring Jim Carrey as Scrooge will be playing at the theater around Christmas, too. Charles Dicken's story of Scrooge is a holiday classic. But did he write it to embrace a Victorian era Christmas or as a piece of social criticism?

Dicken's London world of the 1840s was a harsh and brutal world. Especially for children. London was a literal cesspool with human and animal filth running down the streets. It was the poor who cleaned it up and were covered with it as the carriages of the richer class sped by. London's society was rigidly separated by class. Most of the people were poor, divided into the working poor and "undeserving" poor. There were poor laws that created poor houses that no poor person wanted to go to. There was a law that permitted the bodies of the poor who died in poor houses to be dissected in the local medical schools ( the Anatomy Act). The richer class escaped dreary London with its coal - smoke filled air by living in the country and coming into the city when they needed to do business.

About three quarters of the people in the city made up the working class. Every member of an extended family was needed to work to make a living wage. And even then, good jobs were few and rents were high. There were no child labor protections and this was one of Dicken's reasons for writing Scrooge. Children were on the street selling flowers and matches. Dickens worked as a child to support his own family while his parents were stuck in a debtor's prison.

Dicken's main character, Ebenezeer Scrooge, is a member of this isolated aristocracy who is unaware of the suffering of the poor. Even among his own employees. His awakening comes when the third ghost visits him on Christmas eve. When he is taken to his own grave, he realizes his future death is coming without hope of redemption. When he wakes up on Christmas day, he knows he still has a chance to live - and he embraces life with a passion to live differently, and rightly. First, he delivers a Christmas meal to his employee and family, Bob Cratchit. It is a hopeful scene as at least one member of London's rich aristocracy has had his conscience aroused to the needs of the poor around him.

Today, our world seems like it has come a long way from London in the 1840s. However, we still see stories about brutal child labor practices throughout the world. We read about how children are exploited for profit. We read about the sexual trafficking of the young. Even, in our country, and in our community, a recent news report highlighted startling statistics about the growing number of children living below the poverty line, and eligible for food stamps. However, the report also mentioned that only about 2/3 of those eligible ever apply. We hear about food banks being depleted, and shelters full. We know there are clothing drives and food drives. We know people out of work whose family's are struggling.

The first Christmas card was designed in 1843, the same year Scrooge was published, and it reminded those who were materially blessed to give so that those who were not could be clothed and fed. This Christmas, as we watch Scrooge, it can do the work Dickens meant it to - if it reminds us of the needs of so many children in our community and around the world - and if it prompts us to remember those children, especially, in our gift giving. The bulletin board at church offers some concrete and practical ways to "give like Scrooge" eventually learned how to give.
(this blog is based on an article in Christianity Today online called The Darker Side of A Christmas Carol by Lisa Toland)

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