I love Christmas. There’s no better way to end the year (especially a year that’s been as emotionally draining as this one) than filling your days with good food, good music, the comforting presence of friends and family and, of course, some good Christmas movies.
There’s plenty of good Christmas movies to choose from, believe you me, but one is truly the bane of my existence. While I could watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Polar Express and even A Christmas Story ad nauseam, the Christmas movie that is truly onerous to sit through is A Christmas Carol. It might even be, I would argue, the worst Christmas movie in the entire lineup of Christmas films.
You’re probably a bit indignant reading this right now because, chances are, you are one of the many folks out there who has been wooed by the quaint charm of Charles Dickens’ most famous (and only) holiday parable year after year. You’ve likely also become familiar with it through the many film and TV adaptations that have surfaced since damn near the inception of film and TV — there’s a version for every generation! But whether Michael Caine or Reginald Owen or Jim Carrey or George C. Scott was your first introduction to the character of Ebenezer Scrooge, whether you first saw A Christmas Carol as an animated film, in black and white, on TV or in a film, with Muppets or (blessedly) sans Muppets, it’s hard to deny that many folks know the story of A Christmas Carol and have interacted with it so frequently and so early in their lives that it’s a deeply nostalgic piece of culture.
That’s my most major bone to pick with A Christmas Carol: Its saccharine, ubiquitous place in our Christmas pop culture is just too much. Rather than picking up on new stories on ideas, it seems that every year, we must be inundated with the same story about this prickly banker whose selfishness borders on psychotic curmudgeonliness and who undergoes a profound change in his character in the span of (I’m guessing) eight hours thanks to three ghosts. OK, I guess that’s interesting? But the story’s been around since 1843; surely something newer and more relevant to us as a society can be produced? Oh, and don’t tell me the rare stab at updating the story (see: Scrooged) for modern audiences does anything to redeem it or any of the classic takes on the film. I mean, have you seen Scrooged? (Don’t see Scrooged.)
We continue to turn to A Christmas Carol as if it would produce something new and exciting and profound, as if it were a Shakespearean play. However, unlike the seemingly eternal malleability of Shakespeare’s texts, repeated adaptations of A Christmas Carol fail to produce anything new or profound in a way that merits its continued adaptation. In short: stop making this story so damn ubiquitous, people.
And if you think my attitude resembles Scrooge’s, you’d be forgiven. But, unlike dear old Ebenezer’s frankly horrific attitude toward all men, women and children in mid-1800s London, my annoyance with the story is somewhat justified. Not only is A Christmas Carol the Christmas story that won’t die, but Ebenezer is actually the worst.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about rich white men over age 60 (I’m sure you can think of a few), it’s that they don’t change their way of thinking. Well, they rarely change their way of thinking (I’ll leave some room for those special few). But, like every other rich white man over the age of 60, Scrooge is not as pitiable a character as every movie version of A Christmas Carol would have you believe. He is, actually, just plain bonkers. Our first introduction to the character is him being ridiculously cruel to his assistant, Bob Cratchit, not shedding one ounce of a tear for his dead friend, Jacob Marley, and being the absolute worst to his nephew, Fred, who just wants his uncle to chill with the rest of the family for Christmas. Literally every film version of A Christmas Carol makes Ebenezer irredeemably terrible and yet, like the original story, it somehow redeems him. Call me Scrooge after all, but I have always believed that when a person, real or fictional, shows you their true colors, you should believe them. As such, I say “Humbug” to Scrooge because, frankly, he sucks.
On top of Ebenezer being a dyed-in-the-wool heel, the actual reality of A Christmas Carol is bleak as hell. Basically, we get taken on a tour of Ebenezer’s incredibly sad life with the one bright spot being his time working for Fezziwig and being a young man in love. But what we ultimately learn from Ebenezer’s ghost tour is that he’s made that saddest, cruelest choices — for himself and for others — at nearly every crossroads in his life. It’s all just a bleak, bleak reminder that this protagonist is a bad one and this story prefers to trek through the sadness in order to offer up a sliver of redemption. Yeah, that definitely sounds like a fun Christmas story.
Seriously, if you want a Christmas movie with heart and soul and maybe even something remotely cheerful, turn on the Hallmark channel or go browse Netflix or write your own dang Christmas movie. For the love of all that is good in this holiday season, stop giving A Christmas Carol your time and attention, no matter which movie or TV-adapted form it takes. You’ll be doing yourself a favor.