Call Me Scrooge… Please

Yes… it’s true. I consider myself to be on par with Ebenezer Scrooge. I’ll explain more in a minute, but first…

A couple of nights ago, I watched “A Christmas Carol” on TV. Of course, I’ve watched it a zillion times before… along with all the other classics including Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life (still my favorite), and of course, The Wizard of Oz. I don’t know how the Wizard of Oz got to be a Christmas movie, but these days, it’s the only time of year it is shown.

This year, the original version of Miracle on 34th Street is “pay to view.” That’s a dirty rotten trick by the cable service here on Kokomo Island. This is certainly not in keeping with the Holiday spirit. So I say to them, Bah – Humbug!

Hummmm… the saying, “Bah – Humbug,” has become synonymous with Ebenezer Scrooge. Few, if any, can hear “Bah – Humbug… or even just “Humbug” without conjuring up the image of a grouchy, anti-Christmas Ebenezer Scrooge.  But wait… just hold that thought.

Believe it or not, in film or on TV, the part of Scrooge has been played by at least twenty-four different actors. They range from the likes of serious portrayers George C Scott & Basil Rathbone to animated versions with Jim Carrey and Walter Matthau voice-overs. There was even one version with Jim Backus; Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. Perhaps the most famous is the MGM 1938 version with Reginald Owen as Scrooge. There was a 1911 silent film version too, but it was not widely known.

Just a few of the many who have played Scrooge

My favorite version is the one with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge.  That’s the one I just watched… again. Somehow, Stewart’s Scrooge came off as the most genuine. Until now, I had never read the book, so I really wouldn’t know if Stewart was “genuine” or not. But for some reason, this time I was compelled to check out the book to see if this version was faithful to Charles Dickens’s character. I found an online version, complete with the illustrations made by John Leech.

Pactrick Steward as Scrooge with Joel Grey as the Ghost of Christmas Past

I found it interesting that the book is really just a “short story”. By my count, it has 28,599 words. Other counters vary, but by any measure it falls far short of being a novel. Most novels start out around 50,000 words and go all the way to War & Peace with 587,287 words. Other works are even larger.

While checking out about Dickens and the book, I discovered a few interesting tidbits: The book was first published on 19 December 1843… just in time for Christmas. The first printing was 6,000 copies. The production of this book was something of a rarity at the time since it had four woodcuts and four color plates (by illustrator John Leech). The first production sold out in only a few days. All were gone by Christmas Eve.

Marley's Ghost
Woodcut color image illustrated by John Leech, 1843

It only took Dickens six weeks to write and have the book ready for publication. The price for the book was 5 shillings (about $2.00 US then and $25 US now) Dickens made only 230 British Pounds from the first printing. Today, first editions of the book have sold for over 40,000 US Dollars… and “Presentation” copies Dickens gave to his friends have sold for over $280,000.

Now… about that “Bah – Humbug” thing. That’s the phrase most associated with Scrooge. So I wondered if it was ever really in the book or just from the screenwriter’s imagination. I mean… there are lots of quotes associated with books or movies that never really happened. But in this case, it is true. Scrooge says, “Bah – Humbug” twice in the book. He says “Humbug” another four times.

But what does “Humbug” really mean? Merriam-Webster provides us with:

  1. Something designed to deceive and mislead.
  2. A willfully false, deceptive, or insincere person.
  3. An attitude or spirit of pretense and deception.
  4. Nonsense, Drivel.

So I guess we see lots of “humbug” these days, but nothing to do with Christmas.

Having seen the movie(s) many times, now having read the book, I know that deep down Scrooge isn’t really a grumpy old “scrooge.” As we learn, “life” has somehow gotten in the way for poor old Ebenezer, and the spirits show him the way. And in the end, he becomes the happiest person for the Christmas season.

Patrick Stewart waking up after the spirits visited and discovering the joy of Christmas

Near the end, when “new” Scrooge announces his new intentions toward Bob Cratchit, the Patrick Stewart film version follows the book almost word for word:

“A merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!”

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Isn’t that something of a parable for all of us?  It certainly is for me. For a time… a very brief time, I became sorta “Bah – Humbug” for Christmas. I even said that out loud a couple of times during one Christmas season. But it didn’t last long. No… no ghosts visited me… at least I don’t think any came. It was simpler than that. By willful effort, I chose to be happy during the holidays.

No matter what I had or didn’t have, I was going to be happy no matter what. And so it was. The Christmas season became the happiest time of the year. Now I’m proud to be just like Scrooge. The final paragraph of Dickens’ book says of Scrooge:

“… and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well…”

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

So you see, I’m proud to be Scrooge. In the end, Scrooge and I keep Christmas as well as anyone. It is always a time of joy and happiness. And despite what may try to get in the way, I won’t let anything bring down my spirit of Christmas. And it doesn’t matter what you celebrate… it’s the spirit of the season that is for all of to “keep well.”

Yes… Christmas and the holiday season has become commercial. I say, so what. And yes, there are porch pirates lurking to steal away gifts meant to give you happiness.  But don’t let them steal your joy of the season. I say to anyone that “bad mouths” the holiday season, Bah – Humbug to you. I’m going to have a merry Christmas, no matter what you bring.

So no matter how things started out for Scrooge… or me, I am proud that Scrooge and I will always, “Keep Christmas well.”

The final words of the book say it best:

“ May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, “God bless Us, Every One!”

Final two sentences of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol

Christmas Holley

Leave a Reply