I've been thinking over at Raising Generation O lately about the Christmas Spirit. About giving, and teaching children about gratitude and charity, but also 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.
And in fact, Scrooge's spiritual transformation may be more profound and significantly more complicated than the pat miracle that appears at the end of some dramatic versions 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 teach Scrooge 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.
This Christmas maybe we can start small with our children in two ways: Turn off the TV and read Dickens' story at bedtime, or in lieu of family movie night. Talk to them about what really happens to Scrooge that fateful night. Think of ways to keep Spirits of Christmas alive and working in our communities all year long.