It was 170 years ago this week that an author struggling under financial pressures published what he called his “little Christmas book.”
The title was “A Christmas Carol.”
This now-classic tale by Charles Dickens is credited with rekindling many of the Christmas traditions that will be played out today. But it was also regarded at the time as an important political commentary on social injustice and poverty, one that helped reshape Britain’s system of poor laws and workhouses.
It serves as a reminder about priorities and the relative ranking of the things in life of true value, lessons that we might all reflect upon during these times of austere budgets — household and government alike.
During the second ghostly visit, for example, there’s a memorable moment when Scrooge asks what hides beneath the spirit’s robe. The ghost of Christmas Present draws back his garment to expose two children, wretched and abject.
“Spirit, are they yours?” Scrooge asks.
“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy ...”
Among all the threats to mankind to single out for Scrooge, why did Dickens choose these? Why not sickness, greed, violence, isolation or moral decay?
Instead, he emphasized the danger of ignorance, and was pretty emphatic about it.
“But most of all beware this boy,” the Spirit says. “For on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”
Dickens even seemed to anticipate that future generations would argue this point — as we have done, and will certainly do again in 2014, as California revamps education funding.
“Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand toward the city. “Slander those who tell it ye. Admit if for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.”