A Holiday Tale of Money and Illusions
In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens uses the Christmas spirits to offer a profound change to Scrooge. Scrooge finds in the age-old drama between the human and spirit worlds, a drama of sacrifice and exchange.
The renewing abundance of nature is symbolized by the Ghost of Christmas Present. But, as we well know, such a fertility god is caught up in endless cycles of life followed by death.
The empty scabbard that the Ghost of Christmas Present wears about his waist suggests the bond between fertility and death. This bond quickens our awareness that there is only the present in which to live; only the present moment, only the present lifetime. As we know from the death and rebirth of Attis in the rites sacred to his mother-lover Cybele, blood and death nourish the new life. For Scrooge, Death comes robed as the dark phantom whom Scrooge welcomes as a messenger of good will–the Ghost of Christmas Future.
In seeing this struggle of elemental forces, this struggle which he experiences in his own life, Scrooge realizes how money has become illusory for him. He has pursued money for its own sake, but has forgotten the abundance of which money is but a symbol. When he dies, money will be of no value at all; it will bring no mourners to his graveside. On Christmas Day, a day of birth (for both the sun and the light of the Christ), Scrooge himself is born into a new life. His only alternative is death, whether the literal death shown by his name on a grave marker or the metaphoric death of a man who cannot offer his own vitality to the world.
It is a paradox, of course, that Scrooge must die to his old self in order to avoid the death that he has been living and the grave that awaits him. Once he is able to free the money that he has accumulated, his energy flows into the world. He can give the turkey, promise to help the poor, and share the season’s joy with strangers on the street and his own family.
Once he can give to others, he is far more generous with himself. On one hand, he is able to allow himself to receive what others wish to give him — for example, his nephew Fred’s joyous Christmas greeting and dinner invitation that he refused so brusquely at the story’s start. On the other hand, he gives to himself. For example, he allows his own sense of humor to reawaken when he pretends to be annoyed with Cratchit’s lateness before giving him the raise. And then he tells Cratchit to buy more coal for the fires, so that both men will enjoy a greater warmth from the thawing of Scrooge’s heart.
Adapted from The Secret Life of Money: How Money Can Be Food for the Soul by Tad Crawford
The photograph of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is by Alsandro via Wikimedia Commons and is subject to an Attribution- Share Alike license.