December is a lot of things for a lot of people. For me? Well, it’s mostly a race to finish A Christmas Carol before winter break begins. The Dickens classic is part of the curriculum so I’m up to my eyeballs in ghosts, chains, and mince pies.
While the iconic antihero Ebenezer Scrooge is typically held up as the opposite of kindness and consideration, I’m finding I can’t totally write him off this year. No, it’s not that I’m turning into a sourpuss myself. It’s simply that there are a few lines that pre-reformation Scrooge spouts off that really resonated with me this Christmas season.
“Darkness is cheap and Scrooge liked it.”
After an apparition appears on his door knocker, Scrooge does what any sensible human being would do. He quickly locks himself in and checks his door twice. And while I might pop for a few extra pennies–or pounds, as the case may be–if I were anticipating a haunting as he is, the narrator makes it clear when Scrooge spends time in his home even on this night, it is a dark place indeed.
Of course, it’s a metaphor. Just like the fog in the air, there’s a pervasive darkness that follows Scrooge wherever his blackened heart goes. But there’s also a sensible reason behind the darkness: it costs less. Ever the penny pincher, Scrooge feels much like I do. If one
candle light will do, that’s all you need.
In the delightful George C. Scott version of the film, there’s a scene that mirrors my life on a daily basis.
Bob Cratchit Mr. P sneaks into the other room to increase the heat a few degrees. He’s cold after all. For anyone who engages in the Great Thermostat Wars of Winter, you might want to add this quip to your arsenal: “Garments were invented by the human race as protection against the cold. Once purchased, they may be used indefinitely for the purpose for which they are intended.” BOOM. Step away from the thermostat, Mr. P.
“…a time for paying bills without money.”
Scrooge reveals his colors very early on in the story when he replies to his nephew’s Christmas greeting with “Bah Humbug!” and later promises to see him in hell*. There’s no justifying rudeness. There simply isn’t.
*When my students decode their way through the actual line to realize what a naughty phrase Dickens has cleverly concealed, it’s probably the best literary present I have given them to date. Just wait until we get to Shakespeare and his insults.
But before this year, I dismissed Scrooge’s entire diatribe as obtuse nattering. But this year, a line caught my attention in a new way. When Scrooge tries to explain why he doesn’t keep Christmas, he asks his nephew, “What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you?” This inquiry might have to go in the win column for the curmudgeon of Christmas.
With the average American clocking in at over $900 on Christmas expenses, there’s no question that many of us will, in fact, be trying to pay bills without money. Ah, Dickens. If only you could see consumer debt now.
But wait, it gets better. We’ve come a long way in our ability to rack up a debt and hoard since 1843. So the 1984 movie version has altered the line, perhaps in keeping with the times and our love of all things excess. Here, Scrooge scoffs, “What’s Christmas but a time for buying things for which you have no need and no money?” What, indeed.
So perhaps this year, I should be teaching my students about Scrooge the environmentalist. Better yet, maybe we will discuss Scrooge the minimalist. In fact, Dickens beat out Thoreau by over a decade and didn’t have to shack up in his friend’s backyard to do it.
I kid. I kid, of course.
While I may never be able to paint a rosy hue on the ignorant and indignant miser that is Ebeneezer Scrooge, I must say that finding him slightly more relatable gives me pause. And makes me smile. That, my friends, is the magic of literature.
So Tell Me…How do you feel about Scrooge? Did these lines surprise you?
Mrs. Picky Pincher
I absolutely adore A Christmas Carol–especially the Muppets version. 😉
Scrooge does have a few good points, but like anything, frugal intentions can be easily taken into miser territory. His preferences are damaging in that he forces them on other people.
I do love the line about spending money you don’t have. Last year we spent about $800 on Christmas presents and it sucked! Fortunately we didn’t go into debt over it, but it did mean January was a lean month for us. This year has been much better. I anticipate our total will be around $300, which will be paid for in credit card rewards. So hopefully we won’t spend any actual money on Christmas. 😉
I love that. If we didn’t have our CC rewards earmarked for Vegas, we’d use them for Christmas, too. Thankfully, I started shopping early enough and our list is relatively short. This month shouldn’t be too bad!
I’m generally with your husband on this one, but my mom made me a rice pack a few years ago that has been a life saver. I microwave it for a few minutes and it’s a little packet of heat that sits in my lap under my blanket and keeps me cozy and warm for an hour or so. It’s truly lovely. Like a pet or a baby but much lower maintenance 🙂
HA! That sounds like the stocker stuffer gift of his dreams. He actually got an electric blanket last year that he uses/wears when he’s in the basement. We keep the heat on 67. But you’d swear it was the tundra!
The Green Swan
Scrooge does have some nice qualities, I have a hard time not relating to him as well. He works hard for his money, is a prudent business man, he keeps his accounting up to date (tracking expenses!), and he is a diligent investor (a banker who tracks his loans closely!). I like his style!
He’d fit in well with the personal finance community. I’d like to think we’re all considerably kinder and more giving, though!
Don’t let Mrs. 1500Days see this line ““Garments were invented by the human race as protection against the cold.” Now Mr. 1500Days on the other hand… If you haven’t seen posts describing their thermostat wars, I’d highly suggest. I find it interesting how low Christmas costs actually are for many people (at least to us). We are quite frugal but we have 5 kids between us (all “adults” as of this Sunday!) and even smaller gifts for them and one simple one for our own siblings/nieces and nephews adds up! I bet the kids love your class 🙂
I hope they love it! I love teaching it 🙂 We have awesome curriculum which helps a ton (as you know!)
I will have to check out their thermostat wars. I’m always looking for people who have my back. We’re trying to scale down some with gift giving this year. We buy for my nephews, but I always feel like I have to get their parents something, too. In my family, once someone has kids, you only buy for them. But even after almost four years of marriage (and a million years of dating!), I still don’t want to offend my in laws!
I love hearing your thermostat stories. I’m usually only sensitive to cold’s, but wearing pajamas and a robe, I don’t seem to really care as much as I my sister this winter.
But in summer time? I’m the dude wearing a sweater because my sister’s too hot and needs the air on.
This morning’s conversation:
Husband – It’s cold.
Me – Where’s your robe?
H – Downstairs.
Me – Where’s the electric blanket?
H – Uh. I dunno.
But I had to be nice because I forgot to make lunches last night and he rescued me!
Emily @ JohnJaneDoe
Jon loves a Christmas Carol, especially the George C Scott version. And I relate to the heat battle…I keep having one with Little Bit, who can’t reach the thermostat but can turn on the space heater that Jon likes to keep in the family room for early morning dechilling. She also likes to kick Jon out of his favorite chair and turn on his heating pad. But, if you are wearing a t-shirt and barefoot when it’s 40 degrees outside, you deserve to be cold. I’ll have to start using your quote.
On the other hand, I have a running light bulb battle with Jon. He keeps putting in the dimmest, least wattage bulbs…I like to be able to see when I’m trying to knit or read, thank you very much, so I keep sneaking brighter bulbs back in, at least on my reading lamp!
Ha! We have that lightbulb debate too. I had to explain to my husband that it is impossible to put on eyeliner or tweeze eyebrows with 4o watt bulbs! I’m all for using lower wattage in fixtures where there are multiple bulbs, but if I can’t have a window in my bathroom, I at least need a light!
And I admire Little Bit’s strategy. She sounds a lot like my middle schoolers. They all want to go inside early for recess because they’re not warm in their hoodies and shorts when it’s 35 degrees out. Imagine that 😉
Amber from Red Two Green
Scrooge the minimalist! A minimalist before it was cool to be a minimalist. Haha- loved this especially as I am wrapped up in a heavy blanket and sweater cursing every single dollar of our $600k in student loan debt which has forced me to keep the thermostat at an unreasonable temperature for the indoors, IMO.
You gotta do what you gotta do, right? It makes SUCH a difference when it gets really cold. Next week, we’re looking at highs in the single digits (Fahrenheit, of course). My neighbors will start to post about $200-$400 bills soon. No thank you!
I’ve never actually read A Christmas Carol, but maybe I should!
Man…one more book to add to my reading list…travel, reading, and writing – my big motivations when working towards financial freedom ^_^
Christmas is my favorite holiday. And, while I know that shared experiences are the best gift, it wouldn’t be Christmas for me without some gifts under the tree to give to my beloveds. But, on the flip side, the commercialization of Christmas brings out the “Bah! Humbug!” in me. I despise Black Friday, I despise commercials for Christmas sales, I’m infuriated that Christmas stuff is being put out BEFORE Halloween for Pete’s sake and if I never, ever again hear the “Every kiss begins with K!” jingle for Kay jewelers…..well, it will be too damn soon. When did Christmas become a great big nationwide buying and spending frenzy?
I watched my Sweetie Pie open gifts at one of her birthday parties when she turned four. (She had multiple parties…..her parents are divorced and each parent has a party plus one grandmother has a party for her.) The pile of gifts was obscene. Gifts were handed to her, one by one,as she sat at a table. The first few, she exclaimed over and thanked the giver but soon she was just ripping packages open, glancing at the item, then she’d literally toss it over her shoulder and grab the next one. It was disturbing. So, my son in-love, daughter, son, husband and I discussed it later on. The conclusion was that the best thing we could do for Sweetie Pie, in regards to gift giving, was to go Scrooge-ish for future birthdays and Christmas. One large group gift (a swing set this year), a couple of gifts from Santa, two small gifts from daddy and Sugar, two small ones from the hubs, son and myself…..and a stocking of course. We got her an abacus and a play dough set and some card games for her stocking….. experience oriented things. Hopefully, she won’t grow up thinking Christmas is ALL about stuff. Hopefully she’ll think Christmas is about decorating the tree and hot chocolate, candlelight and the scent of pine, a room lit by a fire in the fireplace and the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree, baking cookies and writing a letter to Santa, cutting out a hundred paper snowflakes and singing Christmas carols, making cornbread dressing and homemade cranberry sauce for Christmas dinner…..and being happy just spending time together…..and a couple of presents under the Christmas tree, lol!
Gary @ Super Saving Tips
Thanks for a great post. I hadn’t really thought of Scrooge in this light before (even if it’s just one candle!) and that definitely makes him more relatable. Like any of us, he’s trying his best and has just wandered past frugality into cheapness.
For the holidays, our gift list is fairly light, and I find that takes a lot of the stress out of the season. Being able to enjoy the company of family and friends without all the hassle and expectation is a joy indeed.
As for the thermostat wars, I can only say that they don’t get any better when one or both of you has health issues. I’m the one that’s always cold thanks to my heart disease, and my wife is sometimes cold, sometimes hot, but almost never comfortable temperature-wise. We always start with a lower temperature in the winter, but readily move it up as needed. The one saving grace is that our place is not large, so neither is the expense.
Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life
Scrooge made a few good points over the course of a miserly existence, but there’s something about a broken clock being right twice a day, isn’t there?
Oooh I’m behind the one light thing, but it has to be a good bright bulb, there’s no way I’m going to ruin my eyes sitting by a dim bulb like I did in the Poor Days. As I type this, I’m sitting here by the dying evening light and the Christmas tree lights.
I’m lucky that I’m the cold and the frugal one, so even though it’s below 50 degrees, I’m just under a blanket and in flannel pajamas instead of cranking the heat up. JuggerBaby would run out in 45 degrees with wind blowing, no socks or shoes on, if we let zir. Ze horrifies my family with zir hardiness 😉
Scrooge cannot win until he cares about people instead of money. My roommates and I agree that our poorly maintained house is really daggone cold in the winter. Not much to do about it. We put on another layer, turn up the thermostat and freeze. I’m glad that I have enough wool socks to rotate.
I think part of what makes Scrooge so dastardly is how relatable he is. We all know someone like him, even if the person we have in mind isn’t quite to Scrooge status yet. And his reasons for hating Christmas aren’t unfounded, they’re just the frustrations we all face taken to the max. I just realized I haven’t read that book for almost ten years! Sorry to brag… maybe I should go read it again out of solidarity with the English teachers out there!
I reckon people start to relate more and more to scrooge as they get older.
I wonder how many people have read the book and not just seen one of the films?
ive never understood the thermostat wars. I’ll cut the cable cord, the cell phone bill, and all restaurants. I’ll even sell my car. However, i will buy some **** heat when its cold!