A Christmas Carol

For some years I was privileged to play the part of Belle in a celebrity reading of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, and it remains an enduring and perfect memory. Put on by a group called Sumus Vincinae (We Are the Neighbours) to raise money for the local food bank and women’s shelter, it was a labour of love and volunteer effort in the staging, producing, and performing of the reading. In case you have forgotten, Belle is Scrooge’s former fiancée, and the scene in which she appears is Stave Two, and the Ghost of Christmas Past. Her immortal words follow.

 

It matters little,” she said, softly. “To you, very little. Another Idol has displaced me, and if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve.”

“What idol has displaced you?” he rejoined.

“A golden one.”

“This is the even-handed dealing of the world!” he said. “There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth!”

“You fear the world too much,” she answered gently. “All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master passion, Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?”

“What then?” he retorted. “Even if I have grown so much wiser, what then? I am not changed towards you.”

She shook her head.

“Am I? “

“Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were both poor and content to be so, until, in good season, we could improve our worldly fortune by our patient industry. You are changed. When it was made you were another man.”

“I was a boy,” he said impatiently.

“Your own feeling tells you that you were not what you are,” she returned. “I am. That which promised happiness when we were one in heart, is fraught with misery now that we are two. How often and how keenly I have thought of this, I will not say. It is enough that I have thought of it, and can release you.”

“Have I ever sought release?”

“In words. No. Never.”

“In what then?”

“In a changed nature; in an altered spirit; in another atmosphere of life; another Hope as its great end. In everything that made my love of any worth or value in your sight. If this had never been between us,” said the girl, looking mildly, but with steadiness, upon him; “tell me, would you seek me out and try to win me now? Ah, no!”

He seemed to yield to the justice of this supposition, in spite of himself. But he said with a struggle, “You think not.”

“I would gladly think otherwise if I could,” she answered, “Heaven knows! When I have learned a Truth like this, I know how strong and irresistible it must be. But if you were free today, tomorrow, yesterday, can even I believe that you would choose a dowerless girl – you who, in your very confidence with her, weigh everything by Gain: or, choosing her, if for a moment you were false enough to your one guiding principle to do so, so I not know that your repentance and regret would surely follow? I do; and I release you. With a full heart, for the love of him you once were.”

He was about to speak; but with her head turned from him, she resumed.

“You may – the memory of what is past half makes me hope you will – have pain in this. A very, very brief time, and you will dismiss the recollection of it, gladly, as an unprofitable dream, from which it happened well that you awoke. May you be happy in the life you have chosen!”

 

The words are Victorian, and seem an age away, perhaps…though if the fashion of the golden idol has changed, it remains with us. I can assure you that even reading this with a script required some practice, lest I damage the poetry of Dickens, but I was genuinely moved to speak this part aloud, on stage. For the words still mean something.

We were a disparate group of individuals from every variety of civic, public, and political perspective, who simply came together and accomplished a wonderful thing. Of course we raised significant money and charmed the audience, but the hallmark of the thing was that we enacted the meaning of community, of being neighbours together, which is the meaning of Christmas as Dickens would have us see it. It has been said enough times to be cliché that we need some spirit of Christmas year round, but some sense of this is true, nevertheless. This spirit may be many things for many people, but its heart is rooted in community. For it is when we are willing to put aside our disparity of opinions and ideas, seeking instead to build a better thing by using the power of this disparity, that we become a real community.

Wishing you the joy and love of the Christmas spirit, for whatever holiday you celebrate, and year round. May you be happy in the life you have chosen.

Their names are ignorance and want...

Their names are ignorance and want…

 

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Are You Ready for Christmas?

I am thinking deeply and intently on Christmas at the moment, memories of a conversation being stirred up by a chance remark while out shopping: “Are you ready for Christmas?” It was somewhere about December 1st, I believe, when a well-meaning, kindly sort of middle-aged woman asked me that question. The memories I refer to here are of a delicious conversational rant I enjoyed with a friend – oh, probably a few years back. She was irritated at the assumptions implicit in the question, not to mention the ubiquitous banality of it, as was I. As if Christmas consists of X, Y, and Z purchases which will ensure the requisite readiness.

 Neither my friend or I celebrate Christmas as Christians, for that is not our religion, which is true for many millions of people. On the other hand, most of the world celebrates some sort of festival at this time of year, and those traditions of the Northern Hemisphere are well-ingrained for many of us. So while it is perhaps a touch insensitive to blithely assume all your fellow shoppers do celebrate Christmas, I am not about to embark on a deconstruction of the politically correct holiday address. Call it Christmas, call it what you will, we set aside a day at the beginning of the winter season to celebrate, and that is a beautiful thing.

What I was shopping for on that day was lined paper, and you, my imaginary friend, will be pleased to know that I am sitting in my favourite 1940s library chair writing on said paper, whilst sipping a cup of Kick Ass coffee. Cogitating on Christmas. That shall be my last purchase other than food necessities until January, for I cannot bear to be a part of the dysfunctional ritual shopping farce that Christmas has apparently become for some. I am curious (and ever hopeful) to see if more people shall disconnect themselves this year. It simply cannot be bought, the magic and charm of the season.

 I was, I think, five years old when my cousin told me that there was no such being as Santa, but I never really believed her, for I could see the spirit of Santa Claus in everyone and everything. The bright lights and beautiful decorations, the special foods and feasting, the treats, the happy, smiling people everywhere and many visitors, the ordinary cares of the world set aside for a few days. Silver-shining blessed moments such as these could only be invoked by magic, I reasoned then and still do.

 Most of my Christmases have been spent with the family I grew up with, though not all for we live far apart. But those moments preserved as memories of the very best of times mysteriously bind us together in ways that cannot be reckoned logically. A couple of gifts stand out: a big box of second-hand books, one year (we are all book lovers), and another – a pony. The entire neighbourhood came out on their doorsteps on Christmas Day to clap and cheer as I rode my pony through the gently falling snow. What a picture postcard scene to hold fast to my heart: my family, my friends, my community showing their joy at my joy.

There is much more I want to tell you, my imaginary friend – yes, it will be a book, and it will be ready next year about this time, I think. I am hoping you will forget this, though, as they are likely to be next year’s gifts. And I am not telling you what this year’s gifts are, although I have been working on them for months. When I finish this I shall start on making some special cakes for friends and family…Christmas here will be full of simple feasts and simple pleasures and simple good cheer. No frantic shopping required.

 Maybe I shall end here with a vignette of Rudolph, who is about fifty-six years old – older than me, anyway!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Originally Rudolph pranced about in the snow (oh, that marvelous fake snow that looked so real!) with his team mates and sleigh and Santa, all encased in a golden sort of cage. It was a table ornament, I guess, and I loved it with a fierceness that still surprises me. Sadly, a few years ago the thing pretty much disintegrated, and my mommy gave me Rudolph as a keepsake. You know, when I look at him I remember just how he used to look, proudly leading his sleigh. Never shall that vision tarnish, for it is my symbol of everything Christmas.

 Joy. Goodwill. Peace on Earth.

 Yes, I am ready for Christmas.