We down at Virginia Stage Company love A Christmas Carol. We love it for the same reasons you, and different generations do. From the fantastical ghosts, to Scrooge’s awakening, it’s a story we all love to hear retold in different ways. But there is one element that makes the story more fun than others, the spirits. These otherworldly visitors that show Scrooge the Christmases of his past, present, and future always captivate and excite audiences when they appear.
But why are these spirits imagined the way they are? You almost always expect to see The Ghost of Christmas Past as shiny, bright, and warm; while Christmas Present is always jolly and bearded. Why the literature of course! The words of Charles Dickens paint the picture of these specters that have been interpreted for years. But there is more in the words than our eyes can show us on stage; questions that the literature answers for us that we might not always get when we watch the show. Why is the Ghost of Christmas Future silent? Why does the Ghost of Christmas Present have over 1800 siblings? Well all these questions and more we can somewhat answer, and theorize about, in these next few posts!
The Jubilant and Withering Ghost of Christmas Present
This spirit has a reputation among viewers and readers of the work, either they love him or they hate him. For me, The Ghost of Christmas Present was always terrifying because he reminded me of my Mother on Christmas Day; a ball of energy and love, but so help you if you did or said something wrong. It’s because of the sharp change in The Ghost of Christmas Present’s appearance and attitude that makes him one of the most interesting to observe. He first appears to Scrooge in his living room, Scrooge remarks he sat “...In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see, who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's horn...” (Dickens, Carol) He sits in the room on “...kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam.” (Dickens)
This spirit is made much to resemble ‘Father Christmas’ an image common in the 1800’s as the spirit of the holidays, later adapted by our culture as ‘Santa Claus’. He brings Scrooge along as he blesses families and individuals across the globe with his magic torch bringing about a Merry and Blessed Christmas to all. He introduces himself to Scrooge saying “You have never seen the like of me before...never walked forth with the younger members of my family; meaning (for I am very young) my elder brothers born in these later years.” (Dickens) which has a bit more comedic meaning than the initial reader might find. Following this, he mentions his near 1800 siblings; a reference to the 1800 other Christmas Presents who have come, past, and are now in fact Ghosts of Christmas Present. So when the questions is asked, although Scrooge is quite confused, he has in fact walked with a sibling of the Spirit...The Ghost of Christmas Past.
After the Spirit begins to show Scrooge families he has touched throughout his life, and the way they celebrate the holiday season; the ghost begins to make a slow and steady change. His hair goes white, his face ages, and he begins to become more dark and sinister in his message. This represents the waning time that The Ghost of Christmas Present has on Earth, for he can only be Present for as long as Christmas is. Then he ages and becomes a memory of the past. During this process, he confronts Scrooge with two young children; Ignorance and Want. This was one of Dickens’ most powerful and direct comments to his readers. Dickens was always a strong proponent of public access to libraries, and recognizing the plight of those less fortunate around him. These two children embodied, in Dickens’ eyes, the worst elements of human nature; the ignorance of the problems of others and the never ending Want and greed that drives our society. As said by Christmas Present, and perhaps by Dickens himself, “Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy…” (Dickens)
As Christmas Present withers away, the presence of The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come hits us almost immediately; and after a dark and angry/foreboding tone has been introduced to us by our fading present...it leaves us feeling even more worried and terrified for what may be following soon.
That’s my take on The Ghost of Christmas Present, not a happy, holly, jolly old fella now, huh? Well if you’re interested to see the jolly bearded fellow in all his complex glory, don’t forget to see Virginia Stage Company’s production of A Christmas Carol, running until December 24.
Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. S.P.C.K.: London, 1872. Print.