Sometimes on a Christmas morning I wake to the thought that perhaps somewhere in the world, someone received a visit from three spirits during the just-ended night and was at that very moment rushing around their city shouting about peace and good will.
It happened to Ebenezer Scrooge, after all. I don’t know how anyone can read Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol’’ or watch a screen version of it and not be moved by the tale. Scrooge, after all, is haunted by spirits and has an overnight transformation from a curmudgeon who spouted “Bah! Humbug!’’ at every opportunity to a caring citizen who vowed to “honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.’’
The awakened Scrooge goes on to say, “I will live in the Past, the Present and the Future. The spirits of all three shall strive within me.’’ Sometimes when I awake on a Christmas morning and lie quietly for a few moments enjoying the stillness of the house, I think of those words. I make a vow to try to live the same way, and I like to believe that old Scrooge not only meant the words but also lived them for the rest of his years.
Sure, the Dickens novel is just a story, a work of fiction, written something like 175 years ago. The idea that a jaded old miser can have his heart opened and can learn to enjoy life and to love others is a timeless theme. I know of few people who couldn’t be well served by being reminded of the innocence and joy of a child, not only during the Christmas holiday but also every other day of the year.
The fond remembrance of the innocence of childhood, especially at Christmas time, is why so many of us remember the story of Virginia O’Hanlon, the school girl who wrote a letter to the editor asking if Santa Claus was real. As adults, we understand that the editor’s response, “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus,’’ wasn’t about a jolly guy with a fluffy beard but about happiness and believing in things we perhaps can’t always understand.
If a newspaper editor can find it in his heart to write an affirming response to a young girl anxious to believe, then why can’t a spirit, or three spirits, show up in the middle of the night to help a closed-off old man learn to live again — and love again? And why would that have to happen in London in the 1800s? Why couldn’t it happen today, this very day, right here in South Dakota, right here in the United States?
The whole Christmas season, you know, is a time of anticipation. When I was a child, I anticipated Christmas Eve and the opening of my gifts so deeply I could hardly sit still through the table grace and the oyster stew supper. As a young father with children, I was more in control, but I still waited with great anticipation as the days passed between the time Nancy and I bought the gifts for our children and the time we saw our children’s pleasure as they unwrapped those gifts. As an older man with children, grandchildren and even a great-grandchild, I anticipate each year the approach of Christmas and the excitement of the younger generations as they dig into their gifts. It’s wonderful to see them smile at each present and hurry across the room to hug the person who gave it to them.
After the days of anticipation, after the gifts and hugs, Christmas morning arrives. Everywhere, it seems, people talk of good will, of peace on earth. And they mean it, if only for a while before real life comes crashing down again.
One of my favorite holiday songs is Elvis Presley’s “Why Can’t Every Day Be Like Christmas.’’ If everyday could be just like Christmas, he sings, “What a wonderful world it would be.’’
Most days of the year, I suppose, most people would say, Don’t be silly. That’s just a song. It can’t really happen.
On Christmas morning, though, it’s tempting to ask, why can’t it?