The Ghost of Christmas Present took Ebenezer Scrooge around London, to mines in distant moors, and even out to sea, all in an effort to show the old miser what he had not been seeing of the world around him and how life could be lived.
While it is doubtful any specter will visit us when the clock strikes a certain hour on Christmas Eve, Dickens’ description of The Ghost of Christmas Present can go far to show us what is and can be true in our time.
It can show us how wealthy we can become, how joyful we can be, and how peacefully we can live.
Dickens describes The Ghost of Christmas Present in terms of abundance. When he first appears at Scrooge’s house, he is sitting as if on a throne; not quite so much a chair as it is a heap. The heap is composed of an abundance of the stuff of feasts: game, pies, desserts, fruits, and bowls of punch.
What is not in the heap he sits upon is anything found in the ponderous chain Jacob Marley wore in a previous scene. That heavy chain was weighted with cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, and heavy purses.
Abundance is what Scrooge is after in life, an abundance that can be counted in ledgers and kept under lock and key. He has riches of that kind, but they do not enrich him. Nothing of what he has amassed has enlarged his heart or brightened his house.
The Ghost of Christmas Present sits easily on an abundance of another kind and has kindled a fire in Scrooge’s fireplace such as the hearth has never seen.
A better sense of what makes for abundance can go far to redirect life today. If we stopped measuring success in terms of wealth that cannot enrich, we might be much farther ahead as a society.
Dickens further describes The Ghost of Christmas Present in terms of generosity. Generosity goes hand in hand with the theme of abundance, for in it we learn the true purpose of abundance and the joy of having it.
The spirit holds a horn in his hand; a kind of cornucopia he uses to sprinkle its contents on everything from peasant dinners to brewing arguments between people. Wielding the horn is a generous act of giving. Its contents are never depleted and its effects are always positive. It brings arguments to a quick end and makes gatherings festive.
What is more, the giving brings delight to the giver. The Ghost of Christmas Present takes great pleasure in quietly and secretly giving what he can of what he has.
All this is foreshadowed in an earlier scene when two men visit Scrooge in his office to solicit contributions to the local food pantry. They, giving of their time, are jovial and open-hearted. Scrooge, guarding what he has, frowns at the very mention of the idea of giving liberally.
The ghost’s wielding of his cornucopia, joyfully bequeathing its contents upon need, not exhausting its contents but increasing his own joy, proves contagious, and Scrooge — no cracker of jokes — becomes more generous and lighthearted.
Were we to know the secret to a happy life, we can do no better than to look into the spirit of generosity. True gain is found in giving. And some have discovered that the best joy in giving comes when the gift is given secretly.
Dickens also describes The Ghost of Christmas Present in terms of non-violence. Scrooge was depicted as a man of violence in an earlier scene. A caroler came to his office not long after the men collecting for the food pantry left, and at the first measures of his song, Scrooge grabbed a ruler and brandished it at the boy.
That is in stark contrast to The Ghost of Christmas Present. There is a belt around the specter’s waist, with a scabbard. Only he has no sword. His scabbard is empty, antique and it is eaten up with rust. That seems to me to be the epitome of non-violence.
What could we have today if we laid down our swords, let our empty scabbards rust, and lived in a spirit of non-violence? What if we took wounding sharpness out of our rhetoric? What if we no longer weaponized issues and agencies?
I think we’d have little to fear from any Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
My wish this Christmas is, in whatever societies in which we gather — local, state, national, global — that we operate out of a sense of what makes for real abundance, out of a spirit of joyful giving rather than joyless amassing, and with a spirit of non-violence that doesn’t see difference as a cause for division or distrust.