Santa and Scrooge: Two Faces of Christmas In Our Culture

Of all the many Christmas stories penned over the ages, of the characters we associate with the holidays, jolly old St. Nick and Ebenezer Scrooge are perhaps the two iconic faces we remember most of all.  While Santa's reputation may loom larger than Scrooge's, both characters enhance our celebration of Christmas in a very big way.

Santa first showed up as a 6th century bishop who became a saint, hence his formal title of St. Nicholas.  Although legends and stories about the generous old elf abound in many cultures, our modern version of Santa Claus must pay homage to Clement Moore's The Night Before Christmas or A Visit From St. Nicholas.  The poem first published in a newspaper without a byline, attributed to anonymous but in the 1840's, Moore claimed credit.  Our physical description of Santa comes straight out of the poem.  Some scholars question Moore's authorship but regardless, the poem gave birth to our modern ideas about Santa Claus.

There's no question about Santa's goodness.  He lives to give and spends his year preparing for Christmas Eve when he flies around the world bringing toys and good cheer to children everywhere.  Of course, he delivers just to "good children" or so the legend goes.  He's been known to deliver bundles of switches and other less savory items to "bad children" but most of us enjoy the Santa Claus personification.  The spirit of Santa encourages a great deal of holiday giving, by example and tradition.

So whether or not Clement Moore (or whoever might have penned the poem) intended his verse to personify Santa Claus or live through the ages, it has.

The other face of Christmas, one often mocked and made sport of is a character from Charles Dickens' 1843 novel, A Christmas Carol.  Outside of English majors (which I once ranked among) and literature lovers, this is probably Dickens best known work.   In it, Dickens managed to preserve the old English Christmas with all its' traditions and glory even as he also wrote a novel of social conscience, something he did quite well in other works as well. 

From the original novel we now have multiple modern versions of the tale, everything from cartoon format (even one version with Donald Duck) to made for television movies and theatrical films.  We've seen female Scrooges, a Flintstones version, stage productions and more.  Because of A Christmas Carol, there's been a plethora of Dickens Christmas Faires appearing each December across America including in the small town where I live.

 A wide variety of well known and talented actors have tackled the role of Scrooge.  One of my favorites is the performance by George C. Scott but I also like Patrick Stewart's adaptation of the role.  There's a Muppets version and so many more.  Same story, often almost the same lines taken from the classic novel but A Christmas Carol has become a tradition and favorite for many.

 I've often wondered if he created the character of Ebenezer Scrooge out of whole cloth or if Scrooge was inspired by someone Dickens once knew.  Whatever his origins, the name of Scrooge has come to be defined as anyone who doesn't like Christmas, someone who's miserly and selfish, and lacks the Christmas spirit. 

Too often I think society as a whole forgets Scrooge changed.  When I see someone dubbed a "Scrooge" in the media or joked about in society, I think not of the miserly, lonely man at the beginning of the story but of the transformed jolly old gentleman who makes the Crachitt's Christmas and later life so much better. 

Often the most memorable character from A Christmas Carol becomes Tiny Tim more than Scrooge.

When it comes to beloved Christmas stories we have everything from the original Christmas story of the Nativity which comes to us from Luke to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer which began as an advertising campaign for Montgomery Wards to dancing elves and of course Frank Capra's classic and iconic, It's A Wonderful Life.  Although many may never realize, it's a different little version of Scrooge's story, changed and transformed with a different kind of character and put into what was a contemporary setting at the time of the movie's release.

Beloved, jolly happy Santa Claus, a man with magical powers and deep pockets who gifts the world each holiday season has some echoes in a mythical way to Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate.   Ebenezer Scrooge, the old miser who lives a meager, miserable and lonely existence by choice echoes the moments we all have when we're in anything but a Christmas mood.   The pair continue to be compared and contrasted.  Here's a link to a popular Houston Chronicle article from a few years ago comparing Scrooge and Santa.  It's a humourous piece and I like it - but it gives Scrooge no credit at all for his change of heart, which seems very common.

Funny but in the end, I have to think Ebenezer Scrooge personifies the true spirit of Christmas in a far more human fashion.  He lives Christmas year round, loves the holiday, saves Tiny Tim, and becomes a benefactor for the struggling Crachitt family.   He's more like us than the benevolent, all powerful, always good Santa.

Both loom larger than life and yet each offers a little life lesson into giving, into the hearts of mankind, into sharing and Christmas.

Many Christmas theme stories abound - my own first Christmas release is tossed into the mix this year with a poignant love story about faith, hope in the face of utter despair and one woman's powerful love.

A Page In The Life

Rebel Writer: Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

On Twitter @leeannwriter

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  1. Lovely post, and I especially enjoyed your comments about the positive sides of Scrooge's journey and his lesson learned.

    Happy Holidays!!

    And a happy belated Happy St Nick day wishes to all who celebrate it!!


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