Scrooge’s third visitor, from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. First edition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Scrooge wakes again at 1:00 am and pulls back all the bed curtains to avoid being surprised as he was with the Ghost of Christmas Past. He lies in bed for fifteen minutes waiting and feeling anxious. At this point he becomes aware of light shining from under the door to an adjacent room. He gets up to investigate and as he approaches the door a booming voice bids him enter.
The voice belongs to the Ghost of Christmas Present. When Scrooge enters the room he is surprised to see it brightly lit, richly decorated and full of food. The ghost is clothed in a robe with a crown of holly atop his head and sits on a throne made of various meat products.
“You have never seen the like of me before,” says the ghost. Scrooge has not. The ghost tells Scrooge that he has more than 1800 brothers who have walked the earth before him. This story, of course, takes place in the 1800’s. It is a fairly obvious assumption that the ghost has had one brother a year walk the earth since the birth of Christ. This is yet another indirect reference to Christianity.
Scrooge admits that he has changed since the Ghost of Christmas Past’s visit and has a certain level of faith in this transformational program the ghosts have set up for him. He tells the Ghost of Christmas Present that he is in his hands essentially and goes forth with him. Suddenly they are walking forth in the busy city streets of London. It is a bright Christmas Morning. There is an air of cheerfulness among the people. Dickens goes at great length to describe an abundance of food. People are carrying their dinners to the bakers and going to church. As they mingle the Ghost sprinkles water on people making their mood alter for the better because different rules of civility apply on Christmas Day.
Scrooge asks the ghost why he sprinkles water on the people’s food. The ghost tells him it is his own blessing that applies to any kindly given dinner and to a poor one most of all, because it needs it most. Scrooge then asks the ghost why he would close all the bakers shops on Sunday denying people a dinner on perhaps the only day of the week when they can dine at all. The ghost takes issue with this question and denies that it is his doing. He then states:
There are some upon this earth of yours … who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.
This statement (one of a few lectures to Scrooge made by this ghost) may solve the riddle as to why Dickens only indirectly references Christianity within the spiritual universe existing in this story. I would guess he sees Christianity as good and true in its essence but perhaps corrupted in its practice for the most part.
Next the Ghost blesses Bob Cratchit’s house. We see Mrs. Cratchit preparing the Christmas dinner. Peter, the eldest son wears a shirt with a giant collar handed down to him from his father. There are two young children as well. Martha, the eldest sister arrives home from her factory job. The family conspires to hide her from Bob when he arrives home from church with Tiny Tim. Dickens does not explain why only Bob and Tiny Tim go to church by themselves. Bob is upset when he hears that Martha is not coming but she soon reveals herself and sets things straight. Bob tells his wife that Tiny Tim was as good as gold in church and that he gets philosophical telling him that it was good that he was a cripple because it would remind people of the man who made lame beggars walk and blind men see (another indirect reference to Christianity). The dinner is prepared, table set and grace said. The goose arrives and then the pudding. They then settle around the hearth drinking some Christmas mixture. Bob says, “A Merry Christmas to us all” and Tiny Tim replies, “God bless us every one.”
Scrooge is interested in the smallest, weakest member of the family. He asks the ghost if Tiny Tim will live. The ghost tells him he sees a vacant seat and a crutch without an owner. Much like his compassion for his own child self, Scrooge feels compassion for Tiny Tim. The ghost uses Scrooge’s own words against him and remarks judgmentally that if Tiny Tim is going to die he should do it and decrease the surplus population and then continues with another lecture:
… if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! To hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust.
The scene shifts from the ghost to Bob Cratchit toasting Scrooge as “the founder of the feast.” His family does not agree and lets him know it, but Bob persists remarking that it is Christmas Day and different rules of civility apply. The family reluctantly toasts Scrooge and in a few minutes the good mood returns to this poor but happy family.
Outside the Cratchit house people are out visiting. Then the ghost takes Scrooge on a journey visiting various peoples celebrating Christmas. They see miners, men isolated in a remote lighthouse battered by storm, and men on a ship at sea. Each celebrated Christmas with a warm heart despite their rough environment. Once again Dickens makes an indirect reference to Christianity mentioning its “mighty Founder [who] was a child himself.”
And then they were in Fred’s house at the dinner party Scrooge was invited to. They laugh at Scrooge and how he disdains Christmas. Fred mocks him too but then reveals that he pities his uncle and intends to keep inviting him to dinner. Later they play games and Scrooge becomes involved and does not want to leave. Eventually, the ghost removes Scrooge and they continue their travels.
At some point Scrooge notices that the ghost has grown old. He tells Scrooge that his life on the earth will end at midnight. Scrooge sees a hand protruding from the ghost’s robe. Upon Scrooge’s inquiry the ghost reveals two retched children hiding under his robe. The boy is “Ignorance” and the girl is “Want,” the ghost tells him. They are the result of greedy men designing social structures that leave people behind. If ignored, these children will eventually bring about the doom of mankind.
“Have they no refuge or resource?” asks Scrooge.
“Are there no prisons?” mocks the ghost using Scrooge’s words against him. “Are there no workhouses?”
The Ghost of Christmas Present then disappears as the clock strikes midnight.