Ever since Charles Dickens’s holiday novel A Christmas Carol went viral in London in 1843, stingy people have been tagged with the worst holiday epithet: Scrooge. Even though the most famous Christmas story of all time is actually about a rich, bitter old man who sees the error of his miserly ways, the character’s surname remains a grave insult — so grave that merrymakers often fail to spot the fact that pre-haunting Ebenezer had some pretty solid points.
The Scrooge we meet in the earliest pages of the novel is a stew of other Dickens villains. There’s a dash of Fagan from Oliver Twist here, a pinch of Miss Havisham there. But the unredeemed Scrooge of the early pages of the book isn’t given the opportunity to be funny or sympathetic like those characters. It is made clear that this guy sucks. Readers (and moviegoers) are encouraged not to sympathize with Scrooge even though they should. Why? Not because he’s a lonely hoarder, but because he was prescient enough to see the true ghosts of Christmas future: overspending, consumerism, and grotesque sentimentality. Scrooge had some bullshit opinions on workers’ rights, but he wasn’t totally wrong about Christmas.
Want proof? Look no further than the original text, which is full of gems that parents of today should treat like maxims. Scrooge gets it.
“What is Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money?”
Social pressure during the holiday seasons leads families into debt. In other words, many lower- and middle-class families pay their bills without money. Every year, millions of people overspend, budget poorly, and wind up owing credit card companies big. Marley’s ghost wore the chains he forged in life as a ghost. Families wear the chains they forged in December in January. This is all very dumb. Better to have a lean Christmas than a hungry new year.
“It’s enough for a man to understand his business and not interfere with other people’s.”
People are all up in your business during the holidays. And there’s a ton of pressure from the outside world to behave a certain way during the holidays. It’s not that Christmastime is a bully, but if you just don’t love Christmas, you’re labeled a Scrooge. In the context of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is anti-philanthropic, which is regrettable. That said, he’s not wrong that he shouldn’t be bothered to behave in a certain way if he doesn’t much care for the holiday.
“I can’t afford to make idle people merry.”
This one is questionable. This is some classic trickle-down economic, “welfare queen”-y poor shaming. Still, there’s some wisdom there if you sidestep the grotesque lack of social responsibility. Because work-life-balance is so hard and family members are so annoying, it’s hard to devote a bunch of your energy and time on people and things that don’t give back to you. You don’t really owe anybody anything at Christmas time just because it’s Christmas time, particularly people you don’t ultimately care about and people that don’t ultimately care about you. Your obligations should be to yourself and the family you choose to protect, not everyone in the world.
“Keep Christmas in your own way and let me keep it in mine!”
If people don’t want got to a party or do Secret Santa in the office, leave them alone. And if you’ve got a drunk grandparent that’s going to come over and ruin your own personal Christmas celebration, it’s probably okay not to invite them. Christmas time is not a time to invade people’s privacy, regardless of what commercials or greeting cards tell you.
“A poor excuse to pick a man’s pocket every 25th of December!”
This is one of the most famous phrases uttered by Scrooge, partially because we’re meant to see how out-of-touch he sounds saying it. He’s being a real jerk about charity, but maybe there’s some wisdom in that as well. Charity is good, but not all charities are particularly effective or well run. Many overpay advisors and staff and do little to trigger change. There’s plenty wrong with being greedy and nothing wrong with being selective about causes and interrogating requests from philanthropic organizations. Part of generosity needs to be prudence. At times, people forget that and focus on the gesture of giving rather than the actual outcome. It’s important to take a practical approach (ideally, without being a cheap fuck about it).