A Christmas Carol’s Justice

I’ve been thinking lately about fairness, justice, equity–and how these relate to the season’s spirit.  At the end of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (the real, unabridged, print version)–spoiler alert–Tiny Tim doesn’t walk.  The real miracle is that Scrooge’s heart is changed.   Scrooge’s spiritual transformation may be more profound and is significantly more complicated than the pat miracle that appears at the end of some dramatic version of the story.  At the end of the book, Scrooge proclaims two significant things. One, we remember:  “I shall love [Christmas] as long as I live.”  This is the spirit of love and charity, giving trees, toy drives, thy fellow man, etc. etc.


Less frequently remembered is Scrooge’s vow: “I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future! The Spirits of all three Three shall strive within me.”  The ghosts have taught him not just the spirit of charity and fellowship, but that we must remember the past and pay attention to the present if we are ever to change the grim future.  If Scrooge’s turkey is given to the Cratchit family in the spirit of Christmas charity, his action the following day: raising his clerk’s salary is an act of justice: righting the root cause of poverty. In fact, what Scrooge agrees to is to pay his employee a living wage.


Why have we (mostly) forgotten this part of Dickens’ very modern, very timely message?


What Scrooge learns from the Spirits is not just to keep Christmas (love, generosity) alive the year round, but to live in a way that calls for intelligence, memory, and action: we are all responsible for the welfare of our community.  To ignore this fact, and live as if the poverty and pain of others is not our business, this risks not only their tragedy and demise (the specter of Tiny Tim’s death) but, as the Ghost of the Future clearly shows Scrooge, it risks our own literal and spiritual death.


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