Was Scrooge a villain or a visionary?

On Charles Dickens’ timeless creation

Photo taken from Toronto Star

Let’s talk about Christmas, shall we? And excuse me whilst I channel my inner Scrooge. From now on my name shall be Mario “Ebenezer Scrooge” López-Goicoechea. I bet you anything that the first comment left in the box below tonight will be “Bah, humbug”. Well, bah-humbug back to you, my friend!

When does Christmas really start? Is it when mince pies go on sale, or perhaps when my weekend papers begin to assault my senses with endless John Lewis, PC World/Currys and M&S A5 catalogues? How about when the lights of your town centre are switched on?

Lets talk about Christmas indeed. More specifically about our modern notion of the birth of one of the most important figures in the history of mankind: Santa Claus.

Despite my previous words, I do not despise Christmas. But, not having been brought up with the tradition (we used to celebrate Christmas’ Eve back home. However, even that was hush-hush as Fidel’s government clamped down on all things religious), I find myself at a loss over what is considered proper Crimbo etiquette. What I have noticed is that there is an unhealthy commodification around this yearly celebration.

That is why I think that Scrooge was on to something. Charles Dickens gave us a visionary in Ebenezer. A prophet who saw the shape of future Christmas to come. Or at least the ghost of them.

Scrooge has always been accused of being tight-fisted. Yet what he really represented was the resistance to the market forces that were already making themselves felt in Victorian Britain. He was thrift versus future profligacy. He got labelled (undeservedly in my opinion) a miser. How unfair, I say! All he was doing was alerting the world to the Wongas of the noughties. The payday loan companies whose annual interest rates can reach up to 5,000%.

True, Scrooge lost his fiancée Belle. His critics blame his procrastination. He wanted to hit the jackpot before saying “I do”. But what man does not want to provide for his beloved? Especially in those pre-feminism years when women still did not have the vote and marriage was just another way to keep them down? Have you not ever seen the men who post-winter-solstice and pre-Christmas shindig, wander aimlessly around shopping centres, Champneys products in hands, not being able to tell the difference between Natures Tree Nourishing Body Butter and Natures Treat Nourishing Body Scrub? Do you not feel a smidgen of pity towards them? Looking like zebras caught in the middle of a pride of lions? I think Scrooge was way ahead of his time here and by hoarding, sorry, saving his money, he taught future generations how to administer their cash better.

Ebenezer did not despise the poor. He loved them! But he knew what was coming to them. He could smell it (God, he had a huge nose. At least in the screen versions). Bad credit cards habits, debts, round-the-clock advertising, mental and spiritual poisoning of the young, you name it, our modern version of the yuletide season covers them all. And that was before the Tory-led coalition came to power in 2010. Imagine what Ebenezer’s thoughts would be now, faced with charisma-free, wheat-fields-enthusiast Theresa May and her band of (alleged) porn-watching, foreign-country-insulting, porky-pie-telling band of merry men (oh, yes and that woman from the DUP).

Let’s talk about Christmas. Especially, let’s talk about the real meaning of it now that secularism has given the Overweight Citizen from the North Pole the heave-ho-ho-ho. Is it family time with Morecambe and Wise on telly? Clad in our new PJs and gorging on chocolates? Frantically and aggressively tearing up the impressively wrapped presents from friends and relatives? Taking a selfie? Discreetly putting aside one of the aforementioned presents? Checking your status on Facebook, whilst your mum goes to the kitchen to check on the turkey? Discussing the meaning of life? Having yet another chocolate and promising yourself that “no, no, this will be the last one”? Taking another selfie?

Scrooge’s intention was to rein in this excess. Maybe he went about it the wrong way. But his message of simplicity ought to be heeded in our current race to exterminate ourselves through shopping. In the meantime, pass us some mince pies, will you?

London-based, Cuban writer. Author of “Cuban, Immigrant, and Londoner”, to be published by Austin Macauley. Has written for The Guardian and Prospect.

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