Treasures in The Christmas Carol :: Stave I

In years past, I have read The Christmas Carol aloud to my children. This year, I dug out a copy that was a little newer with crisp pages that were not yellowed and delicate from time. I turned on the fireplace and turned off the lights so we could sit in the warm glow of the Christmas tree lights. Then, I used the flashlight on my phone to begin reading to the children, using the best of my English accents.

Each time we give The Christmas Carol another pass, I find new little treasure of truth and beauty that I hadn’t seen before. Sometimes they are deep, other times they’re just interesting little unknowns that I find I must research in order to fully understand. Today, I present to you two of my treasures from Stave I (Chapter One):

“Foggier yet, and colder. Piercing, searching, biting cold. If the good old St. Dunstan had but nipped the Evil Spirit’s nose with a touch of such weather as that, instead of using his familiar weapons, then indeed he would have roared to lusty purpose.”

So who is St Dunstan?

Saint Dunstan was the most popular saint of the English people. This is an old folk tale about him found in English literature that says:

St. Dunstan, as the story goes,
Once pull’d the devil by the nose
With red-hot tongs, which made him roar,
That he was heard three miles or more.

In another folk story, the devil asks Dunstan to shoe his horse, but instead, Dunstan nails a horseshoe to the devil’s hoof. This causes the devil such pain that Dunstan agrees to remove the horseshoe if the devil promises to never enter a building with a horseshoe hanging over the door.

Later in the scene:

“The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, is a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought in interfere, for good, in human matter, and had lost the power forever.” 

I no longer believe in hell as eternal punishment, but what Dickens has described here is a pretty good depiction of what would be perceived as torment (or purgatory). What if, in death, we were able to see all those that were broken-hearted and in desperate need? What if we could see their pain and anguish and know how best to help, but be unable to reach out and take care of them? How would it plague our hearts and burden our souls? How torturous it would be to be forced to watch the suffering of living souls and be unable to do anything about it?

Marley came to visit Scrooge to warn him of the fate that was about to become his own. He showed him his heavy chains that he forged link-by-link and told Scrooge that he had seven years on him—that Scrooge's chains would be even bigger, heavier, than Marley’s.

In these revelations with Marley, hell became the realization that the ghosts had ample opportunity in their lives to love other and be kind and good—spread charity and empathy. Yet, they failed, and therefore would watch the pain unfold before their now open eyes.

That is hell.

Dickens got it right.

So don’t wait. Don’t cast your eyes aside when you see a beggar, a homeless man, a child that’s wayward in behavior and in desperate need of affection. Don’t fail to see the tears behind the young mother’s eyes. Don’t ignore the pain behind the tired man’s eyes who works and works and works but still can’t make enough to provide for his family.

Don’t be Marley and Scrooge. Don't get lost in business and money, in success and pride.

Don’t be the multitude of moaning ghosts in the streets of London--lost in endless time for wasting that which was given them in life. 

Don’t end up realizing what life was supposed to be about before it’s too late.

Love now.
Have empathy now.

Be good now.

For Marley’s sake.

Shake off your heavy chains.

Be free…

And help make others free.

Because Dickens knew something...

He got it right.

DISCLAIMER: I still don't believe in eternal punishment. I've become something of a universalist that believes God will restore ALL things unto Him.

Saint Nicholas, A Man Who Loved God and Loved Others

There is so much about Saint Nicholas that I would love to share, but it will lead to endless rabbit trails that twist and turn through history. For instance, did you know about the American Saint Nick during World War II?


*don't do it, Gia!*

*bites lip, rolls eyes...and mumbled, "Fine..."* 


Back to what I was saying:

What I will share with you first was my son’s history lesson today. My children are home schooled, but it’s a public school/charter school that they participate in remotely from home. All the curriculum is what they teach in public school—supposedly. I find this a little hard to believe, because their history lessons are rich with Christian and Muslim history.


Onto Teddy’s lesson today.

Saint Nicholas was born in the third century in Asia Minor to Greek Christian parents. His parents were very wealthy and died when Nicholas was young, leaving their vast wealth to him. However, Nicholas didn’t care about money—but cared more about the people in his village of Myra. He was often grieved by that which was grieving those around him. 

Later in life, Nicholas, who had been raised and educated by his uncle (a bishop) answered the call of Emperor Constantine to attend a The First Council of Nicaea where the men would debate about the Holy Father and his relationship to the Holy Son. It was at this meeting that legend tells us that Saint Nicholas became so enraged with the Egyptian bishop, that he stood, crossed the room calmly, and slapped the man across the face. He was later arrested, stripped of his bishop robes, then (because of an encounter in his prison cell with Jesus and Mother Mary) released and reinstated as a bishop (more on this another time).

Perhaps the song about Santa Claus being able to see us when we are sleeping, comes from the stories of Saint Nicholas having an uncanny way of knowing who in his village were in desperate need. One story is of a man with four daughters. The man was too poor to pay a dowry for his daughters to marry and the eldest one was distraught. Saint Nicholas overheard her grief as she cried in her bedroom and it burdened his heart. Nicholas rushed away from the house, went into his house and collected all the gold coins he could find, stuffed them in a bag, and went back to the man’s home. Since he wanted to give this gold in secret, he swung the bag and tossed it high onto the man’s roof where it landed atop the chimney and fell down inside. Sound familiar?

That night, Saint Nicholas awake from his sleep with fear and worry over the remaining daughters. He had given enough money for the eldest daughter to marry, but certainly the other girls would want to marry too. So he climbed out of bed, gathered more gold coins and tossed a bag upon the man’s roof. He did this the next two nights until all the the daughters had enough money to marry.

The following spring, Saint Nicholas sat quietly and watched the daughters dance with their new husbands at the marriage feast. He was so pleased to see the joy in the girls parents' eyes. They would be okay now, they were taken care of, and no one knew it had been him that delivered the bags of coins.

Today, Saint Nicholas is celebrated all around the world as the secret gift giver and the saint for children. He has his own day dedicated to his memory on December 6th, early in the Advent calendar. People leave carrots at night for his donkey that he travels on as he comes along bearing gifts. They leave out stocking or boots for him to fill with chocolate, oranges, and gold. Children are taught that the gifts are to be shared and not hoarded away for themselves. In turn, they give to those around them as well.

By the sixth century, the story of Saint Nicholas had been heard far and wide and he was officially known as a saint. Emperor Justinian built a church to commemorate him, encouraging citizens to celebrate Saint Nicholas. In the 10th century, an anonymous Greek author wrote, "The West as well as the East acclaims and glorifies him. Wherever there are people, in the country and the town, in the villages, in isles, in the furthest parts of the earth, his name is revered and churches are built in his honor. All Christians, young and old, men and women, boys and girls, reverence the memory and call upon his protection."

During World War II, Santa Claus became a household name. Everyone was desperate for joy, as we are now, and the mysticism and gift giving became popular once again. As bombs fell in Europe, American GIs would dress up like Santa and hand out little toys and candy to the local children who were in desperate need of cheer and hope. Our brave fighting men restored something good in a land that was devastated with loss.

So here we are. We are still a world reeling from war and loss and pain. Is it lying to continue centuries old tradition that stemmed from a good, kind, loving man who tended to his neighbors needs? It is lying to encourage mystery and imagination…?

I have no good answer, but instead will take the lead of WWII service men who became Santa Claus and took a bag of gifts and candy and treats all across Europe. If it was good enough for those brave men, it’s good enough for me and my children.

So, here’s to Santa Claus—jolly ole’ Saint Nick (-holas).