linguistics and lexicography Love English

Are you feeling Christmassy?

© PhotoDisc / Getty ImagesIn countries where Christmas is celebrated, the population probably divides fairly neatly into those who love Christmas and revel in every aspect of the festive season, and those who actively dislike it. I suspect there aren’t many who can take it or leave it. The patron saint of those who shun Christmas and everything to do with it is of course Ebeneezer Scrooge, the protagonist of Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol.

“A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge’s nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.
“Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug!”

Scrooge hates Christmas with a passion:



“What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

Scrooge’s meanness is so extreme that he has given his name to the language both as the archetypal miser, and as the misery who likes to spoil everyone else’s fun:

Some people are tight-fisted old Scrooges who like nothing better to count the pennies.
It’s okay to be a scrooge about the holidays, but don’t ruin everyone else’s fun.
Don’t be a Scrooge: From Christmas caroling to Charles Dickens to high tea, here are six ways to have yourself a merry Victorian Christmas in New York City.

But Scrooge undergoes a radical conversion in the course of the novel: schooled by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, Scrooge sees the error of his ways, and at the end of the book, as Christmas day dawns, he comes out as a belated but enthusiastic champion of the festivity he has scorned for most of his life:

It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.

Scrooge’s 20th century equivalent is the Grinch, the character invented by Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr Seuss. In his 1957 children’s book How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the mean-spirited Grinch, displeased by the noisy festivities of the citizens of Whoville, decides to steal all the trappings of Christmas in order to shut them up. Like Scrooge before him, he undergoes a change of heart when he hears them singing a joyful Christmas song, despite the loss of all their gifts and decorations; and like Scrooge his name has become shorthand for someone who likes to stop others enjoying themselves:

What kind of grinch doesn’t like giving kids a gift and seeing their faces light up?
I’m the Halloween grinch I guess, and I’m feeling grinchier than ever as I get older.

Dickens, as you might deduce, was a passionate lover of Christmas and celebrated it with his characteristic gusto and enthusiasm. I don’t know about Geisel, though apparently the Grinch was based on aspects of himself. I’m a bit of a Scrooge myself, but Merry Christmas anyway.

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Liz Potter

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