Sunday, December 20, 2009

Why Scrooge Was Right About Christmas

By John Blumenthal

Ebenezer Scrooge is the most charming, lovable and delightfully rotten curmudgeon ever created. His lack of Christmas spirit is utterly refreshing. The sourpuss at the start is so much more entertaining than the transformed Ebenezer, who's about as interesting as egg nog.

When Dickens' A Christmas Carol was first published in 1843, London was one of the most dynamic cesspools in the civilized world. Every manner of vermin came from all over England to take in the city's slop-covered sights, bask in its sumptuous refuse and spread various and sundry plagues.

The stench was overpowering because the science of sewage disposal involved dumping everything that stank in the Thames. There were rats everywhere and they were not spreading holiday cheer. If St. Nick gave the children anything for Christmas, it was probably cholera.

It was the start of the Industrial Revolution, so a few greedy people were fabulously rich, while everybody else was too poor to buy houses with walls. Kind of like what we have now.

Children were forced to slave away in filthy workhouses. Thieves lurked in every alley, waiting for fops to stumble by. Food was crawling with maggots, which is only slightly less revolting than Britain's cuisine is today. People threw feces out of their windows and then wondered why everybody was always sick.

Yet the royal family and the Peers of Realm lived in obscene splendor.

So being a curmudgeon was a sensible philosophy in Scrooge's day. He was a realist, a man who understood the miserable, depraved nature of humanity. And he was a miser because he was old and would one day need expensive assisted living. Plus, in those days, money was the only thing that stood between him and a miserable life in the polluted, thief-ridden, rat-infested gutters of London.

Besides, all curmudgeons are misers. It comes with the territory.There is no such thing as a magnanimous curmudgeon.

As for the book's other characters, Ebenezer's nephew Fred is a good-natured, middle-class twit, operating under the delusion that his uncle is actually a nice person, in spite all evidence to the contrary. Clearly, Fred is a little on the slow side, and doesn't seem to notice that the streets are teeming with impoverished skeletons even though he walks by them every day.

Bob Cratchit is optimistic to the point of insanity. He has a crippled son, barely enough food to feed a squirrel, a house so cold that everybody's snot freezes, and a wife who should have been hospitalized for inappropriate ebullience. Yet poor Bob suffers under the delusion that he's content.

Why? Because it was Christmas, so everybody had to appear joyous, even if they were too destitute to afford presents for their children, other than the occasional piece of wood with a badly-drawn face on it.

Thank God things are better now. Today, at Christmas, we open our checkbooks to help those less fortunate than ourselves. Do we do this out of the goodness of our hearts? Do we do it to please God? No, we do it for the tax deduction.

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