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Bah! Humbug!

December 19, 2019

One of my favorite Christmas stories is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I only recently learned the back story on it. The movie, The Man Who Invented Christmas, tells the story behind the story. It’s somewhat fictionalized, but it tells the essence of the story.

Dickens was a popular author with more bills than income, and a growing family. He had written a few very successful books, but his most recent, Martin Chuzzlewit (which I’d never heard of) had been a flop. Evidently, there’s a reason I’ve never heard of it. Sales for it were abysmal, which meant the income to Dickens was too.

So Charles set out to bring in some income with a new story he wanted to publish more quickly than a book could be published and sold in those days. He wanted it to be available for Christmas because it was a compelling Christmas ghost story. Which was, by the way, very far off the beaten English literature path. A couple of problems were in the way. He hadn’t planned a sufficient time line, and he had to publish it himself. Either of these two things would have derailed it. But, for some reason, neither did.

You know the story. A miser is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future. His hard heart is melted and his life is turned upside down. Or right side up, actually.

The book was wildly popular with the English audience Dickens had targeted. It didn’t earn the fortune he had hoped for, but it was a hit.

Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843, 176 years ago. It’s setting is in mid-19th Century London, but the story is timeless. I’m pretty sure it will endure for another 176 years, if Jesus doesn’t return before then. Dozens of movies of Dickens’ story have been made. Many dozens of stage plays have been produced from it.

My favorite retelling of this wonderful story is a musical that was released in 1970, called Scrooge. Watching it is a Christmas tradition at our house. Albert Finney was a most convincing Ebeneezer Scrooge. His “Bah! Humbug!” and accompanying condescending smirk achieve their objective: to make you despise the character. Which made his post-Christmas Future metamorphosis all the more dramatic.

I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I’m a bit like Ebeneezer Scrooge. OK, a lot like him. With only a few days left before Christmas, I’m just not feeling the Christmas spirit. With some significant life changes and convergence of a few key factors, we’ve got less financial resources to work with this year, and that’s made a difference, which is a delicate way to say that I find us financially embarrassed. We’re bumping the bottom of our bank account. But the odds are pretty good that many (maybe most) of the people who will read this would say the same thing. I’m not the only one who’s got to make Christmas dollars stretch beyond their limits.

Money shouldn’t be the huge factor it feels like it is, should it? And the reality is that me bumping the bottom of my bank account is still way better than 15/16 of the people on the planet. How shallow am I if that’s the big thing that sets the emotional tone for my Christmas? Pretty shallow. Bah! Humbug!

And while I’m complaining, I’ll just go on with how disturbing it is to me that no matter which way I turn or what channel on the radio or TV I tune to, a Merry Christmas is epoxied to buying big-ticket items. Really? How many people are going to put a bow on a new Lexus or GMC pickup or Lincoln or Cadillac and park it in the driveway on Christmas morning as the gift for their spouse? “I got a couple for us…” Really!? Or how many guys are going to buy a $5000 diamond pendant for their lovely for Christmas? I can go on, but you get it, so I won’t. The commercialization of Christmas bothers me. Bah! Humbug!

It’s a whole lot easier for me to complain and whine about the commercialization of Christmas than it is to actually do something about it. I mean, what can I do about it, anyway? I have no control over the advertising industry or the broadcasters who pay their bills with income from them. My buying patterns won’t change the stats they run their ads from. I feel like a victim of a system that has swallowed my Christmas joy. And I’m also prone to rants. So.

Here’s what I’ve come to on it. Whatever the rest of the world does at Christmas doesn’t have to set my emotional temperature. I can choose to make Christmas what I want it to be. I can choose to anchor it to the simplicity and wonder of the actual Christmas Story. But if I don’t apply intention and effort into it, I’ll end up being swept out to commercial sea on the tides of advertising hype.

This is not an original thought. Way not original. My dad used to complain about how commercial Christmas was, and say we had to resist the pull of it. I’m sure his dad probably said some version of the same thing. Preachers all over the planet have been preaching against the commercialization of Christmas for many generations.

So what kind of intention and effort will help us resist the irresistible? Simple things, really. Here’s a couple of suggestions.

First, get out your Bible and read the Actual Christmas Story. You’ll find it at the beginning of the biographies of Jesus, in Matthew 1:18 through 2:18. (by the way, Matthew Chapter 2 and the visit of the Magi takes place up to 2 years after Jesus’ birth. Possibly some potential good data to know for those Christmas trivia games, or your appearance on Jeopardy.)

Luke tells the same wonderful story from a different perspective in Luke 2:1-21. He writes about shepherds and angels and no room in the inn,

If you have kids or grand kids at home, ask them to read these passages out loud with you and the rest of the family. Do what I call a “read-around.” Each person who can read gets to read a verse, and then it goes to the next person. You may have to help younger readers with some of the words, but that’s no big deal.

In a perfect world, bedtime is a good time for this. Dinner time would be a good time, too. The older your kids are, the more difficult it is to have a time when everybody’s together at the same time. So you’ll probably need to create a time for this. You’ll need to interrupt the normal flow of life for it. And, in a way, this is a good thing. It’s an illustration of what the coming of Christ was – an interruption of the normal flow of life. And a quiet interruption it was for most of the world.

Second suggestion. Play Christmas music. Sing along. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a horrible voice. Sing. It’s good for your soul.

Third suggestion. Write letters. If you want to write the ubiquitous “Christmas Letter,” that would be find, I guess. But I have in mind letters to specific individual people. Handwritten letters to offer Christmas blessings and say thank-you for how they have contributed into your life. The letters I have in mind aren’t about how the family’s doing, and who won what ribbon at the science fair. The point of these letters is to do two things. 1) remind you of the blessing people have been in your life. This may do more to open the door of real Christmas Joy than just about anything. 2) to remind the recipient that their life and their input into your life matters.

There’s a gillion more ways to open your heart to the real meaning of Christmas, so there’s no excuse about not knowing what to do. You should pick things to do that will matter to you and your family. But you should pick something and then be intentional. It’s the best way to push back the Bah! Humbug! and rediscover the abiding joy of the coming of the Savior.

From → Marriage, Parenting

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