It’s that time of year again! The colourful lights adorn the streets and shops, the Christmas markets are bustling and I’ve just unpacked my decorations, ready to get into the festive spirit once more.
The television is packed full of feel-good Christmas films and classic musical hits are jollying us all into the spirit of giving and reminding of us of the importance of connecting with those we love. One story in particular that stands out is Charles Dickens’ very special tale of the wonderfully mean Ebenezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol.
Even in our fast-paced, modern era, many of us love to read or watch a production of this Victorian story of greed, mortality and regret, which has something of a timeless resonance with our society. I realised this the most when I read it with my year 11 English Literature class last year. Two years ago it was thrust back into the GCSE English Literature syllabus (England) in an attempt to toughen up exam specifications and push aside those American literary favourites that had become a very comfortable part of our teaching repertoire (I still miss Steinbeck’s George and Lennie!).
Honestly, at first the thought of teaching this text didn’t fill me with much excitement. I love Charles Dickens but after ploughing our way through Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet my rather reluctant readers were all tired out and needed a break. Perhaps something they could relate to? A modern novel, even?
With hesitation, we began the hard slog of reading our 19th century text choice – and nobody was more surprised than me at my pupils’ response to this old classic. They loved it. The language was rich, dense and challenging but that didn’t seem to matter. The story grabbed their interest and captivated their attention. Most of them knew the outline of the tale already but that didn’t seem to deter them. They were completely hooked by Scrooge. In 2016’s world of tablets, apps, iPhones and virtual reality, the message of Dickens’ archaic novella was still entertaining and provoking a reaction in a group of ‘too cool for school’ teenagers.
So what is it about this story that is still so relevant and appealing today? Well, take away the historical backdrop and context and what you have is essentially a story about human nature and spirituality; about kindness and compassion in a cruel world. Not only that, but a story that examines the topic of our mortality; one that highlights the importance of family and friendship above money and material gain. It is also of course a fantastical tale of ghosts and spirits. It is the story of a man so jaded by the materialism and greed of the world that he lost his joy and his human compassion along the way.
Life has changed and moved on a great way since the darker industrial days of Dickens’ London. We are apparently more civilised in our lifestyles and choices, but this timeless message from Mr Dickens still rings true. At Christmas in particular we often see people coming together to support others. Whether it is feeding the homeless on Christmas morning, donating a shoe-box to the Salvation Army collection or gathering together toys to give to young children in hospital, the festive season is a time for giving, sharing, remembering and uniting our families and community.
Charles Dickens clearly saw the value in our sense of Christmas charity and through good old Ebenezer Scrooge we are reminded of the need to cherish the most benevolent human traits deep within us all and push back against the temptation and hollow greed of the season’s materialism.
Jude Vale was a secondary school English teacher and head of department for over 16 years. She is now a freelance writer and runs her own tuition and coaching services company in Bath, Adspiro.