A Tale of Two Christmas Carols
Two characters: Ranjitsinh Disale and Ebenezer Scrooge. The name of the first would not likely raise much recognition—if any at all. The second, of course, is probably familiar to most in Western culture. Especially at this holiday time of the year, Scrooge turns up everywhere.
In an almost annual new film version of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, the quintessentially miserly Ebenezer Scrooge appears at the beginning of his story, even in Disney animation and the Muppets, as the antithesis of the Christmas spirit of holiday generosity and cheer. He is the original Christmas grinch. He brought the original and ultimate meaning to the exclamation, “Bah! Humbug!”
And then, the old story goes, he is met in visitations on each of three successive nights with sinister spirits who lead him through the grim experiences of his Christmas past, Christmas present, and Christmas future. And each is a disheartening, hopeless state. The last of these visitations, to Scrooge’s horror, portends his own likely end and the utter disregard for his loss by all of his acquaintances. And it is all because of the selfish life he has led.
In Dickens’ original novella, published in 1843, some scenes from Ebenezer’s childhood suggest that the road into which he later drifted resulted—at least in part—from an abusive father and his schoolmates’ exclusion of him from their activities. (Can you imagine being answerable to the name “Ebenezer” as a child? Of course, it is a biblical name, with decidedly positive meaning to regular readers of Scripture, but, really, “Ebenezer”?)
And Dickens’ depiction of the young Ebenezer surely came from some autobiographical memories. Born into poverty himself, he had had only four years’ schooling. With his father in jail, he had been pressed into all kinds of work in a blacking factory to support the rest of his impoverished family.
So, his depiction of the young Ebenezer as he developed into maturity, all versions of the story since the time of its original telling—in literature and in film—attest to Scrooge’s grim miserliness and uncaring for others. Universal to almost every telling of the story is a revealing incident in which two humble representatives of charities show up at Scrooge’s counting house, hoping to encourage a contribution from him for the poor at the Christmas season. They are summarily—and discourteously—dismissed by him and sent on their way.
“Ebenezer Scrooge” has become synonymous with selfishness. His character has been summed up in a quip from humorist Jerry Seinfeld: “That’s the true spirit of Christmas: people being helped by people other than me.”1
Originally titled A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, the narrative has caused discussion among scholars as to whether it is merely a fictional secular story, to be enjoyed only for its quaint, heartwarming sentiment, or a Christian allegory. Its immediate popularity was so great that Dickens was called to make many readings of it, for audiences of up to 2,000. And in the spirit in which it was written, he gave many of them for charity. And its occurrence in various media and versions since that time has proved its enduring impact on thought and behavior, especially during the Christmas season.
And it even occasionally happens that actual instances in life bring thought to similar sentiment toward the opportunity to help others, especially at holiday times. Such is the reason for attention last Christmas to a man named Ranjitsinh Disale, a schoolteacher in an Indian village.2
Disale was reported to be at the center of a kind of true-life Christmas carol of his own. He had become known for his commitment to the education of girls in local schools. In his endeavor to help others, he had learned several local languages and developed technological approaches at Zilla Parishad Primary School so students there could access audiovisual resources that they’d never had before.
For his unusual effort, Disale was unexpectedly awarded during this holiday season a Global Teacher Prize of $1 million. And this alone may serve to recognize his selflessness for others, but there is more. After receiving the prize of such an unimaginable sum, he gave half of it to the other nine finalists for the prize. “‘They will get a chance,’” he said, “‘to continue their work, and we can reach out and lighten the lives of as many students as we can.”3
Such acts of selflessness—such a life of care for others—is something to which Ebenezer Scrooge woke only late in the classic story of his life. In a story described somewhere with apparent ideological intent as a “heartwarming tale of how rich people must be supernaturally terrorized into sharing,”4 Scrooge was brought to the realization of a need for change. And the focus of this came during a time when the culture all around him was celebrating the ultimate sacrifice imaginable in God’s sending His own Son to live—and die.
There is in the story of Ranjitsinh Disale a small, personal fulfillment of this same spirit. The accounts of his care for others, as they have been reported in the media and social media today, make no mention of the worldview from which Disale’s selflessness comes. Whether he is a Christian or—more probably—a believer in another religious faith, his life is just as much a Christmas carol as that of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Without any apparent need to have been visited by three terrifying nightmares, Disale may be living a lifetime carol of a similar tune. Scrooge came to this decision: “‘I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.’”5
Disale may not be realizing it, but in his own way, if all good is ultimately from God—“God is good”—then surely is he not truly honoring Christmas in his heart as well—throughout the year?