Friday, January 09, 2009

What the Dickens?!

Tis the season, as they say. No, not baseball season. I mean the Festive Season and all that stuff. Virgin Birth, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, you know...Stressmas...

Yes, Christmas comes but once a year, thank Christ...

Don’t get your undergarments in a tizzy.

It stopped being a religious celebration a while ago. Let’s face it, if Christmas actually had anything to do with the birth of Jesus Christ, it would be happening in May or June when he was actually born, depending whether you believe the historians or the astronomers. The ironic part is that we celebrate the birth of Jesus on what was an ancient Roman pagan festival of Saturnalia. But then you already knew that. Besides, if we’re really celebrating Jesus’ birthday, how come he’s not the one getting the presents?

Christmas is about swag and bad television and movies to sell swag, and swag apps.

Celebration of Christmas actually wasn’t all that big a deal until the Victorian era. If Cromwell and the Puritans had had their way, way back when, it would have been scrapped altogether (Pagan Celebration and all that).

And I blame Dickens.

You know, Charles Dickens. What's wrong with Christmas leads right back to Ol' Boz's doorstep.

So the story goes that Charles Dickens was in financial debt and wrote what he considered to be a low grade potboiler ghost story and gave it the sarcastic title of “A Christmas Carol.” (“A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas” is the full title, which just makes it worse if you ask me, and nobody did.)

You all know the story. Ebenezer Scrooge, really cheap bastard, gets redeemed by his equally cheap bastard dead partner and friends just in time for Christmas. God bless us, every one. There have been a couple of hundred different adaptations of it. Every sitcom and cartoon has done a variation on it.

Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” was an immediate hit. It touched all kinds of nerves, and that has a lot to do with Charles Dickens’ talent as a writer. He was the master of the guilt trip. Hell, his entire body of work is pretty much based on it. Anybody read Oliver Twist?

In “A Christmas Carol” Dickens tells his, by this point in his career, worldwide audience that they don’t do Christmas right. “You’re not happy enough. You’re not singing and dancing enough, and more to the point you’re not being generous enough. You’re not GIVING enough” is essentially what he’s saying. And, apparently, the general public thought he was right.

Ever since, retailers everywhere have owed him a percentage.

I hear a chorus of you crying, “No, Michael, you’re missing the point of the story! It’s about the joy of family and helping your fellow man.”

To which I respond, quite simply, “Horse Radishes”

“The Spirit of Christmas” didn’t exist as a phrase or a concept before Charles Dickens foisted it upon an unsuspecting world, but we’ve been dogged by it ever since. This concept also served to make Christmas a competition. Think about your own family. Who among us hasn’t had that fleeting moment of resentment when somebody gets what we perceive as a better present than we did. Can I get a show of hands?

You may say I’m a cynic (and you’re probably right) but I’m not the only one. Based on the success of “A Christmas Carol”, over the next bunch of years, Dickens wrote a new “Christmas Book” or story pretty much every year. And they usually made scads of money, not as much as the original, but enough. He also toured with “Carol,” and his one-man performances became legendary and are recreated to this day. They still make a lot of money.

So, when you’re at home with the family and the annual fight breaks out, or you don’t get what you were expecting, or you are depressed because you can’t afford to get something for everyone, or you’re just not feeling in the Christmas spirit, remember to give credit where credit is due. Blame Charles Dickens!

But don’t blame Jesus. It isn’t even really his birthday

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