Is Ebenezer Scrooge really a meanie or is he a victim of cultural profiling?
The character Ebenezer Scrooge is found in a novel by Charles Dickens called ‘A Christmas Carol’. He is thought to be miserly, grumpy, and lacking in empathy. He is originally from Scotland, a land in turmoil and disruption in 1843.
The tradition of Christmas in England in 1843 was different than it is today. Families went to church and there was feasting and merriment. There wasn’t much thinking about those who had less, or in helping those in need.
Scotland at this time was undergoing the Highland Clearances by the English. This was a forced displacement of highlanders (people from the mountains, usually sheep farmers) and their traditional clan system of land ownership was outlawed. It was at this time that many fled to Canada to be free of this oppression.
At the same time, there was something called the Disruption. This involved the splitting within the Church of Scotland. One facet wanted to keep the law that the state appointed the church hierarchy and one facet wanted it to be separate from the state.
Scrooge had seen this disruption of his culture and the resulting poverty, and perhaps this is one reason he concentrated on the one aspect of his life he felt he could control.
Scrooge also had a sister who died young. The grieving process was not very well understood at this time and could also have contributed to his grumpyness.
In Scotland there is less emphasis on Christmas as there is on the celebration of the new year. This celebration is called Hogmanay. It is probably of Norse or Gaelic origin.
There is a part of France that is very close geographically to Scotland — the province of Brittany. The language spoken there is related to the Gaelic of Scotland. The word Hogmanay could be from that French dialect and could mean either au gui l’an neuf (at the mistletoe the new year) or l’homme est ne (a man is born).
Back to Ebenezer Scrooge. He comes from a culture where New Year’s is celebrated more than Christmas, he lives in a place that took away the traditional way of land ownership, he has not been able to grieve the loss of a family member, he is a single person and children tease him, the barriers he has put up do not allow for friendship, and he is a boss.
Charles Dickens used Ebenezer Scrooge to enlighten the English population about looking past the outer person. To see the Scrooges and the Cratchits as multi dimensional characters, not just a meanie and a needy. Dickens wrote the character of Scrooge in the same year of incredible clerical and economic upheaval in Scotland.
We like to believe we are different from these characters but we succumb to commercialism, eat too much, and at times pay minimal attention to helping those in need, instead of renewing the spirit of the essence of community and looking for the back story we all have.
All Scrooge needed was one person, one child who was not yet socialized to judge, to open up his generous spirit. Tiny Tim, more than the fear of the ghostly tales, made the difference.
One of the great things about being a grandparent is having that sliver of wisdom that allows us to listen and learn from children.