As Christmas Day approaches I go through my usual televisual routine of trying to decide which version of A Christmas Carol to watch. Yes, I know, I should really be re-reading the book, but the story is so visually varied that I can’t resist turning to the TV.
This is one of my favourite stories, not just for Christmas but at any time, and I’ve been thinking about why this is. Why do I still go back to this story year after year, and why do I feel the need to pass it on to my children too?
Here are my five reasons why I think this story stands the test of time:
1. The complexity of our feelings about Ebenezer Scrooge. He starts as a man the reader/viewer loves to hate, but we can recognise ourselves in him too. Who hasn’t wanted to say Bah Humbug! when the festivities become a little too much? Who hasn’t wanted to hide away in a darkened bedroom and pretend it isn’t happening, even if it’s just for a moment or two?
2. The threat of tragedy is a constant, whether it’s the dark visitation of Jacob Marley, the fragility of Tiny Tim or the ominous final ghost that only needs to point at the ink-black open grave to send a shiver down the spine.
3. The atmosphere is filled with light and shade. A ghost story is always good on a cold winter’s evening, but here we have the contrast between the fear of the visitations and the joy of the feasting, and I think this reflects how we often feel at this time of year. Another year is over, we may have lost people in that year, things have happened to us, and in everything there will be the light and shade of reflection that ultimately makes us think about the coming year too.
4. It’s about the choices we make in life and having power over our own destiny. It tells us that even if we are mildly unhappy or in deep despair, if we look into our past, our present and our future, we can find a way through. And it’s worth remembering that for Ebenezer, however mean and unpleasant he was to the people around him, once he experienced change (truthful and genuine change), all those people were still there for him.
5. And that brings me neatly to my final reason. It’s a story about transformation. The scenes when he goes out into the snowy world on Christmas morning to see the people he knows are the scenes I love the most. The shock of his changed behaviour wrapped up in the joy of this realisation can warm even the most icy heart, and then surely we know that however badly we’ve behaved, if we can change and grow we will still be loved.
And so to that decision I have yet to make. Of course it is the black and white Alastair Sim version that is seminal, but there’s something about the rather cheesy 1970 version with Albert Finney that makes me nostalgic, maybe for the films I watched as a child based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairytales. Or will I go with my guilty pleasure, a version that’s astonishingly close to the original even with the selection of puppets in key roles and a magnificently grumpy Michael Caine. Yes, I think there’s nothing wrong with a little guilt on Christmas Eve, so I may well be stealing chocolates from the tree and watching The Muppet Christmas Carol while I wait for the witching hour.
And so, as Tiny Tim so bravely said, Merry Christmas to us all; God bless, us everyone!