The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

December 21, 2012

A carol of Christmas

So, is your Christmas tradition getting “an official Red Ryder carbine action, 200-shot Range Model air rifle with a compass on the stock and this thing which tells time”?

Well, it’s mine.

Not to mention shooting grizzly bears down at Pulaski’s candy store.

The now-classic “A Christmas Story,” set in Hammond, Ind., and run in a 24-hour continuous cycle by TBS, became a favorite Christmas tradition for me from the moment it appeared on the tube in 1983. Hammond, for the geography-challenged, is south and east of Chicago on the Illinois-Indiana state line, which flows in a mass of suburbia around the southern edges of Lake Michigan.

Yes, that’s right. “A Christmas Story” has been airing now for 29 straight years, and may be one of the very few traditions of Christmas just about everyone can enjoy and relate to.

I can safely say I haven’t missed watching it at least once — and usually bits and pieces of it many, many times each Christmas season — in each of those 29 years.

But what of other Christmas traditions B.R. — before Ralphie?

Well, whether you are an opener of packages on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, or the increasingly more common weekend before the world's biggest holiday as my job sometimes dictates, observing the birth of Jesus Christ is singular to each and every one of us.

Maybe it’s watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart, or the animated “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Or maybe, as it was with me for many years, catching the best-ever rendition of “A Christmas Carol” — Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghost of Jacob Marley, in that wonderful old 1951 film featuring Scottish actor Alastair Sim.

The film was inspired by the classic Charles Dickens novel written during the Victorian era in England, in which a dour and stingy Scrooge has an ideological, ethical and emotional transformation following ghostly visits from his former Christmas past business partner Marley, and the ghosts of Christmas present and Christmas yet to come.

While the book was an instant critical success, the subsequent film versions and adaptations over the years made the story a staple for Americans at Christmastide, and Dickens’ tale became far more than fictional diversion.

It was a slap at the British government’s change to the welfare system, then known as the Poor Laws. Those laws, as Dickens poignantly pointed out again and again in his works, required — among many other things — welfare applicants to work on punishing treadmills, a form of engine powered by humans walking.

It was Dickens’ literary way of helping the British people recognize the plight of those who were displaced into abject poverty by the Industrial Revolution, and of society’s obligation to provide for them in a humane fashion.

Many Americans may be able to relate more to Dickens today than in previous decades since the Great Depression.

Mass layoffs in a number of industries due to advances in technology, innovation and the simple fact fewer humans are needed in these jobs has displaced hundreds of thousands, much as the Industrial Revolution began doing in Dickens’ day. It was the moving of jobs away from the farm and agrarian base that America was founded upon, relocating workers to larger cities and into non-farm jobs, requiring retraining and new job skills.

So, in effect, Dickens does relate as much in a 2012 America as he did in pre-Civil War 1843, when he penned the novella.

Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge was an example for 1860s America, as it recovered from the history-changing and society-altering Civil War, prodding people to practice generosity to the less fortunate, as this nation struggled to find solutions to poverty and its unending cycle.

Dickens, for his part, cast want and ignorance as ghastly children, who had been doomed to lives of poverty and misery, while demonstrating to the wealthy and more well to do that their wealth and status didn’t qualify them to sit in judgment of the poor, but to act in charitable assistance.

Dickens does, in fact, speak to us this time of year, as he does every Christmas.

And, in fact, as you have read in many previous weeks on the pages on this newspaper, the gift of giving and sharing with those in need is rampant in this community, and in communities across America.

That fact struck me in a Page 1 story in Thursday’s paper, of the two youngsters who cried when they received gifts at Youth and Family Services, because they had never before received a Christmas gift.

Anyone who is not touched by this poignant anecdote truly has become the sour Ebenezer Scrooge — and doomed to Dickens’ Christmas yet to come.

Thankfully, for all our sakes, the gift of giving and sharing is alive and very, very well in this community.

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Go to his column blog at http://enid news.com/historicallyspeaking.

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