Can you imagine? Starting to shop for Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve? And buying the goose to be cooked for Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve?

That’s what clerk/husband/father Bob Cratchit did in Charles Dickens’ 1843 novelette, “A Christmas Carol.”

If we tried to do that today, tens of thousands of shoppers would all be crowding into the stores at the same time, and needed items would be sold out.

So, in today’s world, we have gone to the polar opposite extreme. We start getting ready for Christmas before Thanksgiving. And before Halloween. And before Labor Day. I am not yet going to say, “before the fourth of July.”

Christmas items in retail stores can sometimes be seen in July.

In years past, I have been to parties with the gag theme, “Christmas in July.” It was intended as a bit of a joke to hold a Christmas party in July. Nowadays, people would not get the joke.

Even in the writing and printing of Dickens' small book, it was close to Christmas. Dickens, who was in financial difficulty, started writing his Christmas book three months before Christmas. He finished in six weeks and got it to the printer. The book was released on December 19, 1843 – six days before Christmas. It sold out by Christmas Eve. This quick feat was a century before TV and a century and a half before the Internet.

If Dickens were alive and writing in 2023, the publisher would expect the book two years in advance.

The story in “A Christmas Carol” is an allegory. It tells a story of repentance and redemption. Scrooge was confronted with the real-life effects of his miserly behavior by the ghosts of Christmas past; the struggles of his clerk’s family, the Cratchits, by the ghost of Christmas present; and the sorry ending in his future if he continued in his ways by the ghost of Christmas Future. Scrooge repented.

This tiny book has been adapted for stage, film, musicals and opera. Some of its colorful language has permeated our conversation:

He is a “Scrooge.”

“Baah, Humbug.”

“Tiny Tim.”

Ebenezeer Scrooge before:

"Oh! But 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, shrivelled 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."

Ebenezer Scrooge after:

"Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. 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.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterward; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!" 

December 19 is the 180th anniversary of the publication of “A Christmas Carol.” A lot has changed since then, but one thing has not changed – the need for conviction of personal selfishness, repentance and redemption.

Jim Zeigler is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at [email protected].

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