Tuesday, 23 December 2014

A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens famous story about Scrooge was published 171 years ago but is perhaps even more relevant today than when it was written.

Scrooge, a committed miser is shown the error of his ways by four ghosts who visit him on Christmas Eve. The final spectre, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge his own deathbed, funeral and grave. Scrooge is terrified to realise he will die alone and unloved, mourned by no one, and resolves to change his ways. Throughout the story Dickens shows us that redemption comes through the joy of giving, especially charitable giving.

At the start of the story Scrooge is visited by his nephew who remarks. 'I have always thought of Christmas time as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.'

We are one of the richest countries in the world, we are home to some of the wealthiest people who have ever lived. During the second half of the last century we became a much more equal society than in Dickens's time but today income inequality is again greater than it was 100 years ago. No matter how much you have, and how 'fair' you think you should be entitled to everything you have, nevertheless we are all mortal, all on the same journey through life.

The next scene is a visit from two gentlemen who say. 'At this festive season of the year, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts.' Adding 'Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.' Scrooge replies that the prisons, workhouses, treadmill and Poor Law are good enough for the poor.

Today's equivalents would again be prisons, Universal Credit and Job Seekers Allowance. But also the indignity of food banks, the benefits cap, the unfairness of the bedroom tax and mean-minded immigration regulations.

Scrooge is taken by the Ghost of Christmas Present to visit the homes of many families cheerfully celebrating Christmas. Finally the Ghost reveals, 'from the foldings of its robe, it brought two children, wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable...They were a boy and girl.' Whom the Ghost calls Ignorance and Want and warns against ignorance in particular. When Scrooge asks what can be done to help them the Ghost taunts him with his own words 'Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?'

We do not see the Want in our society, we are no longer confronted by children with no shoes freezing on the winter streets. Instead the media serves up a spectacle of the poor as ignorant and lazy. We make judgements about other people's lives from the comfort of our own homes and convince ourselves that because we are fortunate to have work, family, friends, community it is somehow 'fair' that others do not.

At the end of the story Scrooge gives, not only to Tiny Tim but abundantly to all. He remembers and re-engages with the joy he felt at Christmas time when he was young and he laughs, 'really for a man who had been out or practice for so many years, it was a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh. The father of a long line of brilliant laughs!'

In the last two weeks Children North East has witnessed abundant giving from thousands of ordinary people all over our region who have bought and donated toys, gifts, food, clothing, treats and money for cooking and heating. We have been busy distributing them all to children, young people and families in need this Christmas. The Spirit of Christmas is very much alive and well right here in north east England!

I wish you all a very Joyful and Happy Christmas.

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