Tonight is Christmas Eve (today isn’t because today is the day, not the eve[ning], but I digress), which means tonight our family will gather to watch The Polar Express, a holiday film that has been a part of mine and Lauren’s lives since there ever was a “mine and Lauren’s lives.” Our family has a tradition of having “Christmas movie night” off and on, here and there, between November 1 and December 24. It usually begins with Elf and ends with The Polar Express (technically it ends after the kids go to bed and I watch It’s a Wonderful Life and cry my eyes out every single time, but I digress again). In between we watch TV specials and movies that span decades, motion pictures that are special from our childhood and new favorites that the kids have come to enjoy these past few years.
One favorite, which is watched every year on December 23rd (Christmas Adam, as we call it), is Mickey’s Christmas Carol. In fact, it’s just one of several versions of the Dickens classic that I watch off and on between Halloween and Christmas Day. I adore A Christmas Carol. It’s a wonderful book full of beautiful writing, a clever and sometimes piercing social commentary on that era of England, and one of the very first “time travel” stories ever put to print. I won’t waste your time going over the plot; surely you know it.
I do want to call attention to one of the story’s most enduring catch-phrases, uttered frequently by the central character, Ebenezer Scrooge:
Sadly, the meaning of this phrase has been lost over the years. Most tend to think of it as simply an expletive, or an outburst of Scrooge’s disdain for Christmas, as if he was saying “Psh! Rubbish!” or something like that. On the contrary, the word “Humbug” has a very important meaning and it’s central to the story. Scrooge, as you know, is a bitter and miserly old man, who sold his soul and his ability to love for the riches of the world. Now, decrepit and alone, he’s far too cynical to allow his hard heart to make mirth and merriment during the holidays or any other time for that matter…but especially during the holidays.
In fact, it’s the extra bit of joy on everyone’s faces in December that brings out the worst in him. As everyone around him cheerfully says “Happy Christmas!” Scrooge responds with “humbug!” What does it mean?
Essentially, it means “it’s a lie!”
Scrooge can’t believe that people would genuinely mean to wish him happiness any day of the year, and since it happens more frequently than usual in December, he finds all the refrains of “Happy Christmas!” to be insincere and phony. Scrooge is a man who hates himself more than anything, and thus he hates people wishing him well and inviting him to be “happy” during the Christmas season. When someone says it, he throws it back in their face and says, basically, “you don’t mean it; you don’t actually wish me to be happy, you liar!”
That’s “Humbug.” When paired with a dismissive grunt of “bah” you have the catchphrase of a man who has closed his heart even to the invitation to be loved. How sad. Fortunately, as you know, he learns the error of his ways and, as he says, learns to honor Christmas in his heart and keep it all the year, from that day until his last day.
Tomorrow is Christmas, which means we’ve only two days at most before people stop wishing us to be “merry” and “happy.” It’ll be up to us to be merry and bright without prompt. I hope we will. Despite how dreary 2020 has been for so many of us, there have been many opportunities to rejoice and be glad. I hope we are looking for those opportunities, for they are God’s little pick-me-ups to help us through hard times such as these.
I hope you all have a wonderful, happy, and merry Christmas tomorrow.
And I mean it, sincerely, too.