Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has become a classic Christmastime tradition. Whether we watch one of the many film adaptations, the stage play, or read the original written story, it has stood the test of time and continues to be a tradition every year.
It’s a story that has ingrained itself in our culture– so much so, that calling someone a Scrooge (after the main character, Ebenezer Scrooge) means that they are selfish, stingy, and unwilling to part with their money.
I believe this story has become so famous because we can relate to it. We, too, have had our priorities out-of-whack at one time or another (maybe currently!), and perhaps we also need a rude awakening like Scrooge to turn our lives around.
A Christmas Carol beautifully illustrates the essence of Christian minimalism: realigning one’s life to focus on what matters most (loving and serving God and others), and intentionally removing everything else. Let’s take a look at how Scrooge’s one-night, life-changing experience can teach us about our own Christian minimalism journey. (You can read the original Dickens story for free here.)
Scrooge is An Awful Human Being
At the beginning of A Christmas Carol, we meet Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve. We quickly discover that Scrooge is a bitter old man who only cares about the bottom line; even though he is rich, he is a penny-pincher who refuses to spend money no matter how it could improve his or others’ lives. He also hates Christmas (gasp!), exclaiming “Bah! Humbug!” whenever anyone mentions the holiday.
These selfish and unbecoming characteristics of Scrooge are conveyed through his actions with others. To save money, he keeps the office so cold that his clerk, Bob Cratchit, must wear another layer of clothing inside. When his nephew Fred, full of the joyful Christmas spirit, comes into the office and invites Scrooge to Christmas dinner, Scrooge not only declines angrily but derides Fred for his love of Christmas and his joy of spending time with others. Scrooge cannot understand how Fred can be so merry or be full of love when he does not have much money.
Two men come into the office asking for donations to help people in need. Scrooge asks if the prisons and the workhouses still exist, and says that the poor should go there instead. When the men explain that most would rather die than go to those places, Scrooge famously replies, “If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” Needless to say, Scrooge does not donate any money and sends the shocked men away.
Scrooge chases away a young caroler shortly afterwards, and when it’s time to close the office, he gives Bob a hard time for wanting all of Christmas Day off the next day. Scrooge leaves the office, eats his dinner alone, and heads to bed– but not before seeing his deceased business partner’s face in the door knocker.
In a very short span of time, Dickens has showed us what kind of man Scrooge is. His main motivation is selfish ambition. He has made it his life’s work to accumulate as much money as humanly possible, yet does not want to spend it–either on himself or others, even if it would improve his life/others’ lives. He is a misanthrope who hates people, treats them poorly, and wishes to always be alone. Scrooge is, in short, the opposite of a Christian minimalist and, quite frankly, an awful human being by anyone’s standards.
Multiple Ghostly Visits = A Catalyst for Change
But in this one Christmas Eve night, everything changes for Scrooge. His deceased partner, Bob Marley, visits Scrooge and shows him how he is doomed to drag around a heavy chain of his own making for all of eternity. Since Marley lived the way Scrooge currently lives, he wants to help Scrooge change his ways so he can avoid Marley’s fate. Marley tells Scrooge that three spirits will visit him that night.
The Ghost of Christmas Past visits Scrooge first. We see scenes from Scrooge’s childhood– his sister Fanny, who finally brings him home for Christmas (when previously he never went home for the holiday due to his father’s horribleness). He sees his old boss Fezziwig, and the wonderful Christmas party Fezziwig hosts for his workers and the community, even though it costs him time and money to do so. And in the most telling scene from his past, we see his fiancee Belle break up with him because a “golden idol” has taken her place. Money has become what Scrooge most desires– at the detriment of everything else in his life.
The Ghost of Christmas Present comes to visit Scrooge next. The Ghost takes Scrooge past various people currently celebrating Christmas, many who are poor yet still joyful to be spending time together.
They spend a good amount of time watching his clerk’s family, the Cratchits. Even though they are poor and have many children to provide for, including a sick Tiny Tim, they are full of love for one another and enjoy spending the holiday together. The scene is described through Scrooge’s eyes:
There was nothing of high mark in this. They were not a handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes were far from being water-proof; their clothes were scanty; and Peter might have known, and very likely did, the inside of a pawnbroker’s. But, they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time [together].
Scrooge also finds out from the Ghost that unless something changes and Tiny Tim receives the medical care he needs (which is currently unavailable to him because of cost), he will die.
The Ghost brings Scrooge to his nephew Fred’s house, and Scrooge watches the dinner and enjoyable evening that he could have been a part of had he accepted Fred’s invitation. Both at the Cratchit’s and Fred’s Scrooge hears himself being talked about– and he is described in less than endearing terms.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come arrives last, and although the Ghost does not speak, the message for Scrooge is harrowing. A man has died, yet no one seems to care much. People talk about the funeral, saying they will only go if there is a free meal. Others steal the man’s rich belongings and sell them for a profit. Businessmen who worked with the man (who Scrooge recognizes) barely even register that the man died. The only people who care at all that the man died are those who were in debt to him and will now not have their lives ruined because of the debt and are happy he is gone.
We see the Cratchit family again, and it’s clear that Tiny Tim has died. They are quiet and mourn Tim’s passing, yet appreciate others’ care for them– including Scrooge’s nephew Fred, who went out of his way to offer his condolences on the street.
The Ghost takes Scrooge to the graveyard, and in a shock Scrooge realizes that the grave he sees is his own and the man who died is himself. He begs the Spirit to tell him if he can alter the future….
A Changed Man
…and wakes up in his own bed, ready to be a very different person. He is positively giddy that he has the opportunity to change before it’s too late.
And he is indeed a changed man! Scrooge buys the prize turkey in the butcher’s window for the Cratchits’ Christmas Day Dinner anonymously. When Scrooge comes across one of the men who asked for donations the night before, he donates a large sum of money. He attends church, and then arrives at Fred’s (to Fred and Fred’s wife’s surprise) and joins them for dinner. The next day at the office, Scrooge tells Cratchit that he is going to raise his salary and help his family (including helping Tiny Tim get the help he needs).
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.
The Christian Minimalism Message
Dickens effectively shows us how living a life like Scrooge’s original lifestyle will ultimately hurt not only ourselves but the people around us.
We may not be rich, or be as horrible as Scrooge was, but we can very much relate to parts of his personality. We have put money first at times, over serving God and relationships with others.
No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.Matthew 6:24
We have kept the monetary resources God has given us close to our chests rather than being as generous as we can be.
We know love by this, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.1 John 3:16-18
We have been wrapped up in our own individual lives and shut others out.
[Jesus] said to [the lawyer], “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”Matthew 22:37-40
We have treated people poorly rather than seeing them as fellow children of God.
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.1 John 4:7-11
We have put our trust in money rather than in God.
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.1 Timothy 6:17-19
Scrooge’s transformation is one of becoming a Christian minimalist. He turned his life around to focus on what matters most: serving God, serving others through generosity and love, and spending time with loved ones. He went from a miserable, lonely, selfish man to being a joyful, Spirit-filled, loving man.
Christian minimalism can help us live the life God wants for us. God wants us to live a life full of joy and peace, marked by generosity and love. The change that happened to Scrooge was dramatic– and it can be just as big a change in our own lives when we begin to focus on what matters most and removing everything else.
And when we create that type of change in our lives with God’s help, we will be able to experience God’s blessings fully and in ways we would never expect. As Tiny Tim says, “God bless us everyone!”
What are some ways God is calling you to shed your Scrooge ways and live a more joyful, simple life?