In 1963, Songwriters Edward Pola and George Wyle wrote a Christmas carol entitled “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” The song was recorded and released that same year by pop singer Andy Williams on his first Christmas album, The Andy Williams Christmas Album. It has been a Christmas standard ever since. In the song’s lyrics, Pola and Wyle write:
There’ll be parties for hosting,
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow.
There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories
Of Christmases long, long ago.
People in countries where Christmas is celebrated are familiar with the most famous ghost story of all — Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” It’s a Christmas ghost story that took place on Christmas Eve — and it’s a story about redemption. The man in need of redemption was old Ebenezer Scrooge. Dickens described Scrooge this way:
“He was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.”
During the course of the night on Christmas Eve, Scrooge was visited by four spirits. The first ghost was that of his late partner Jacob Marley. The remaining three ghosts showed him Christmases past, present, and future. The visions melted his frosty rime and changed his heart especially about Christmas. In the end, Dickens describes Scrooge quite differently:
“He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.”
Dickens could have situated the story any time during the Christmas season; but, he decided the story would unfold on Christmas Eve. Why? Most probably Dickens selected Christmas Eve because it added a sense of urgency to the tale. It also allowed him to demonstrate Scrooge’s complete transformation the following day — Christmas Day. In one of the more entertaining reimaginings of the story — a movie entitled “Scrooged” starring Bill Murray — Murray’s reformed, Scrooge-like character, Frank Cross, declares, “It’s Christmas Eve! It’s the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we smile a little easier, we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be.” He goes on to say:
“It’s really a sort of a miracle. Because it happens every Christmas Eve. And if you waste that miracle, you’re gonna burn for it, I know what I am talking about. You have to do something. You have to take a chance. You do have to get involved. There are people that are having… having trouble making their miracle happen. There are people that don’t have enough to eat, or people that are cold. You can go out and say hello to these people. You can take an old blanket out of the closet and say ‘Here!’, you can make them a sandwich and say ‘Oh, by the way, here!’ I… I get it now! And if you… if you give, then it can happen, then the miracle can happen to you! It’s not just the poor and the hungry, it’s everybody’s who’s gotta have this miracle! And it can happen tonight for all of you! If you believe in this spirit thing, the miracle will happen and then you’ll want it to happen again tomorrow. You won’t be one of these bastards who says ‘Christmas is once a year and it’s a fraud’, it’s NOT! It can happen every day, you’ve just got to want that feeling. And if you like it and you want it, you’ll get greedy for it! You’ll want it every day of your life and it can happen to you! I believe in it now! I believe it’s going to happen to me now! I’m ready for it! And it’s great. It’s a good feeling, it’s really better than I’ve felt in a long time. I, I, I’m ready. Have a Merry Christmas, everybody.”
This year has been troubling for many reasons — including the pandemic, a contentious election, and high unemployment. Like the fictional Frank Cross declared, “There are people that don’t have enough to eat, or people that are cold.” If you can do something for them, do it today — on this Christmas Carol Day. Bill McKibben, who is best known for being an environmentalist, has noted, “There is no ideal Christmas; only the one Christmas you decide to make as a reflection of your values, desires, affections, [and] traditions.” Helping others is probably the best way to reflect “your values, desires, and affections.” Hopefully, when you help others, they will pay forward your good deeds and embrace the spirit of Christmas epitomized by the story of Ebenezer Scrooge. This is not the year to exclaim, “Bah, humbug.”