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On the news beat: A modern Christmas carol

December 23, 2010

“A Christmas Carol” has always been one of my favorite holiday tales.
There’s the wicked Ebenezer Scrooge with his miserly ways, the good-hearted Bob Cratchit and, of course, the three ghosts of Christmas who aim to change Scrooge’s life forever.
I first became familiar with the story as a little girl when my brother, sister and I watched “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” hundreds of times each holiday season on a worn-out VHS cassette.
We balked at the cruelty of Scrooge McDuck and cheered when Mickey and Minnie enjoyed a Christmas dinner with Tiny Tim at the movie’s conclusion.
Like Tiny Tim and his family, my family gathered together around the Christmas tree, enjoying each other’s company and being thankful for what we have.
The years passed and, naturally, my exposure to the classic British tale of second chances and good deeds continued. I watched movie remakes of the book, which touched more on the tale’s deeper themes of regret and redemption than the Disney version.
I enrolled in a British literature class in college, where among the great works of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I also studied Dickens and the Christmas tale I thought I knew so well.
For the first time in my life, I experienced Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” exactly as the author intended it. I poured over Dickens’ writing and discovered that, deep down, the story has a meaning that extends beyond the holiday season. “A Christmas Carol” wasn’t originally written to be a feel-good Christmas story, but a call for social reform.
Poverty was rampant in Dickens’ England during the 19th century. There were no welfare programs or crisis intervention services for the millions of impoverished men, women and children who starved and died on London’s streets. Dickens saw that harsh reality, and he wanted to do something about it. The result was “A Christmas Carol.”
Now, more than 150 years after the book was published, we have services and programs in place for the men, women and children who go without on Christmas and the remainder of the year. I saw evidence of those programs in the last couple weeks as I watched selfless volunteers distribute presents for the Catawba County Christmas Bureau and children donate stuffed animals in memory of Zahra Baker.
These gestures restored my faith in a world that is sometimes hard to believe in.
But we can’t let Christmas be the only time we exercise these hard-warming gestures.
Christmas isn’t the only time when families need extra help — it’s just a time when the absence of that help is made most noticeable. Like Scrooge looking through the window to watch his life pass him by, needy children in Catawba County look as their classmates leave school for a joyous holiday season. Those needy children won’t have the comfort of warm food or clothes. Some won’t even have a bed to sleep in.
This Christmas, as I sit at home with my family and read my dog-eared copy of “A Christmas Carol,” I will try to take a moment and remember, as Dickens suggested, those less fortunate than me.
It’s important to take in the joy of the holiday season every year and be thankful for our blessings, but there will always be those who have less.
“A Christmas Carol” never went out of print since its original publication date, and I think I know why. The references to centuries-old British traditions transcend generations because they’re wrapped in a lesson about charity, grace and redemption.
These elements are all the makings of a classic Christmas story, even with a modern twist.

Jordan-Ashley Baker is a reporter for The Observer News Enterprise. Her column appears in the Wednesday edition of The O-N-E.

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