Sunday, December 24, 2006

blame it on scrooge

Ebenezer Scrooge as played by the great British actor Alister Sim. The best Scrooge ever.

Who can forget Charles Dickens wonderful Christmas classic "Christmas Carol." Perhaps the most famous of all Christmas fables; it is the story of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, who loved money more than anything else, and made sure he kept all of it to himself.

But Scrooge is confronted about his cold hearted greed by the ghost of his long dead business partner, Jacob Marley. He is shown what a horrible awful life he's had since making money his idol, and how his miserable ways have caused pain and suffering to others, either intentionally or unintentionally.

So after an evening of being haunted by ghosts, Ebenezer Scrooge wakes up Christmas morning, a new man! The new, generous to a fault Ebezeer Scrooge then goes about London showering money and gifts upon everyone he finds. So the mean old scrooge becomes a happy, generous soul.

What could possibly wrong with such a story? And how can this most famous of Christmas fables be at the root of all the crass Christmas commercialism and gift giving that permeates America like a fog, and even has infected other countries and nations as well?

Well, there is an unintended consquence to the story of Scrooge.

The main thesis at the heart of the Christmas Carol is that everyone hates a greedy, cold-hearted snob, and everyone loves a generous, warm-heartted soul...and who doesn't? So we have it beaten into our heads, from the time we are small children, that greediness is bad, and generosity is good. Not a bad message in general....but then the Christmas Carol has forever linked this lesson to one particular day of the year: Christmas.

Scrooge had something at his disposal that many of us don't: a large cash reserve, big bank accounts, and lucrative investments; in other words, he was very well off. With no children or wife, he had far more money than he knew what to do with. So going off and buying presents for half of London wasn't such a big deal for Mr. Scrooge, as he certainly seemed to have the assets to do it.

But for those of us who identify more with Mr. Scrooge's underpaid and overworked book keeper, Bob Cratchit, zooming off grand gifts to friends and relatives on Christmas--even if we just limit ourselves to just those people--can be a rather daunting task.

It becomes even more complicated when you factor in that all the most desirable gifts, even those for children, are seldom less than $100 each. No, a nice selection of Hot Wheels cars or a Barbie Doll just doesn't make the cut: it has to be a Nintendo or Sony or Microsaft gaming system, with at least a few games to go with it. And if not a gaming system, then Apple's goofey little iPod is the gift of choice--a small, simple one starting at $150 and going up from there.

In other words, Christmas is EXPENSIVE, even when limited to just those few people in our most immediate family. But then who wants to be a Scooge and only get someone a nice card and a simple toy from Wal-Mart? No, it has to be big and splashy, and he has to be "cool." And if we spend too much money in the process, so be it. Better to spend too much and be thought generous then spend too lttle and thought to be a Scrooge.

Now of course there are those who really don't care that they are thought of as Scrooges, for they like money as much as Ebenezer. But most of us would rather not be associated with that image, if we can possibly help it. And thanks to VISA and MasterCard, we can help it.

I don't believe it's the ever criticized "crass commmercilism" of Christmas that has many of us in a spending spree frenzy, but rather a vicious mental fear injected into us by a 19th century British author who was only trying to preach on the virture of generosity. And so generous we will be, and we will be to a fault! Of course the makers of consumer goods know this as well, and have capitalized on this handsomely. And who can blame them? They are only giving us what we want: cool, expensive Christmas gifts.

I personally would like to see more emphasis on the poor and needy during Christmas, as well as all year long...and I dont' mean just songs about world hunger sung by spoiled rock stars. I mean just some simple, common effort to contribute to the Salvation Army, or to CARE, or some such organization that works to alleviate the suffering of others.....those who are truly needy.

I also don't have any problem getting kids toys for Christmas. I wish there were better toys than what we currently have, but then that might be too much to ask for; sometimes something as simple as a football or a nice doll can be the best sort of present. Keep it simple and fun.

To be perfectly honest, the "commercialism" of Christmas doesn't bother me personally, I actually rather enjoy it. But even so, it's easy to get carried away with the point you are giving away gifts with money you won't have until March. I'm certainly guilty of it, and try as I might, I don't get better over time.

I want to be like the born-again Scrooge, not the miserly, old Scrooge. I do admit that that stupid Christmas Carol still haunts me, and that the ghosts of Christmas float around in my subconscious, looking for any possible signs of greed or cold heartedness. To keep them at bay, I give, give, give...certainly more than what is logical or necessary. Mr Spock would not be happy with me. I can see him now: "Spending more money on Christmas presents then your current weekly income is not logical." But sadly the spectre of Mr. Spock in my subconscious is outnumbered by the Dicken's Christmas ghosts, three to one. (Four to one if you count Marley...)

So this year, like all the past years, I've been generous to a fault, especially with member of my own family. And you know what? I don't regret it for a minute.

Still, I blame it on Scrooge.


<>< TM

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