Dickens calls us all this holiday
Last updated 12/13/2023 at 9:12pm | View PDF
My sentimentality tends to spike during the holidays when I take comfort in Christmas music from Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Bing Crosby and the Ray Conniff Singers (anyone?). I bore my children with stories about some of the tree ornaments that belonged to my great-grandparents. I find time for my favorite holiday movie classics.
I’m particularly fond of Charles Dickens’ timeless story, “A Christmas Carol.” Dickens’ inspiration was born out of the socio-economic state of England circa 1840. He struggled as a young boy of very meager means. And I suspect the workhouses, in particular the extreme suffering of children as young as 6 years old forced to labor in horrific conditions, served as strong literary motivation.
His searing political and social examination of the haves and the have-nots hits home today with frightening accuracy and discomfort. He reminds us of this via a poignant line from Jacob Marley’s chain-laden ghost spoken to his former business partner and book’s main protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge, “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance and benevolence, were, all, my business.”
I’m particularly fond of a specific passage at the book’s end. Scrooge, realizing the true gift of redemption and a second chance to have a life well-lived, visits his estranged nephew and his wife on Christmas Day seeking forgiveness for his years of miserly cold-heartedness. His nephew greets him with great surprise and joy, inviting him into his home to join his wife and many of their friends for dinner. The story’s narrator goes on to say, “He was at home in five minutes. Nothing could be heartier. ... Wonderful party, wonderful games, wonderful unanimity, won-der-ful happiness!”
For me, there’s no greater healing power than that of forgiveness and personal redemption. I suspect that’s why I love the story. Those deeply embedded resentments, regrets, or estrangements from family or friends we all carry can weigh on us like Marley’s eternal chains. We think about them often. We tell ourselves it’s just too hard to make amends, to reach out and say we’re sorry and forgive. To forgive ourselves. But in the end, it’s just too hard, too painful. And so, we go on.
But the world needs our healing touch, maybe now more than ever. Hate, violence, want and indifference have cast long, dark shadows. Dickens himself saw this.
Let’s find the time for the mental and spiritual healing that calls us during this holiday season. And through that healing, let us muster the courage for benevolent redemption somewhere in our lives, maybe with someone, and repair the world in a small but deeply meaningful way. Let’s start there.
The Ghost of Christmas Present delivers perhaps the greatest truism in Dickens’ classic.
“Remember, Scrooge, time is short, and suddenly, you’re not there anymore.“
This holiday, make the time.
— Kevin Cook of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email him at