Dickens: The Meaning of Christmas

By Kitch & Tony Mussari
Copyright 2011
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

“A Loving heart is the truest wisdom.” Charles Dickens

An Evening with Dickens

Charles Dickens road to becoming the greatest writer of his time was not paved with gold. On the contrary, it was paved with abandonment, disappointment, and misery. As a child, he had all the road rashes the mean streets of London had to offer.

Sensitive by nature, self-educated by circumstance and purpose, in his 58 years on this planet he wrote 15 novels, several short stories, and many articles. Some would argue that Charles Dickens is the man who rescued Christmas. For that alone, we are in his debt.

David Purdue tells his readers that “Charles Dickens has probably had more influence on the way that we celebrate Christmas today than any single individual in human history…except One.”

On a sunny December afternoon, Kitch and I drove to North Plainfield, New Jersey, to see a student production of A Christmas Carol. Tom Mazur, Supervisor of Fine Arts at the North Plainfield High School, produced the play, and he wrote the musical score. The play showcased the talent of students, faculty and staff who brought Dickens and his “Carol Philosophy” alive in an outstanding and memorable way.

In my mind’s eye, A Christmas Carol is a story about redemption and transformation. It is a story that touches the human heart, and it leaves a permanent mark on one’s soul. Dickens presents a holiday season that, in his words, is "a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."

Scrooge and Us

Essentially, the play is about a successful, unlikable, and miserly businessman named Scrooge who is traumatized into becoming a man of Christmas light and caring.

If you look carefully beneath the surface, it is about those of us who, like Scrooge, are in the race of a lifetime to make it and make it big. In the process, we risk losing our humanness. On our darkest nights, we may lose our capacity to feel the pain of others as well as our compassion and tolerance for people who are hurting and need help.

Watching the diverse cast of actors and actresses in North Plainfield perform Dickens play 169 years after it was written for audiences in Victorian England, it became a living statement about America at its best. It became a vehicle to showcase a place where people of many different backgrounds and cultures live in peace, harmony and understanding. They may have been wearing costumes that spoke to another time and place, but the smiles of joy and participation spoke to a place where one finds community, harmony and support. A community where there is no “brown bag” test, no color line, and no cultural exclusion.

Words of Transformation

The production of A Christmas Carol Kitch and I saw in North Plainfield took Dickens words to a new and inspiring level where every gender, race, religion, and ethnicity had an equal share in the blessings of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and excellence. At one point in the play, 60 students and adults graced the stage. Together they formed a vibrant, human collage composed of many different countries of origin, cultures, religions, and skin tones. It was a powerful image that spoke silently, but effectively, to the words of Dickens:

“I wear the chain I forged in life….I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

“It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.”

“It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing so irresistibly contagious as laughter.”

"There are some upon this earth of yours, who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us."

"It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and, if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death."

“Ghost of the Future, I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?"

The play ended to enthusiastic applause. We said our farewells, and we returned to our temporary home at the Hampton Inn. It was late, but I could not sleep. My mind and body were restless so I searched the internet for a script of Dickens play. After about an hour of reading, I came upon these priceless words:

"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!"

As I right mouse clicked to end the session, I thought to myself, this is all I need to know and practice to make every day of the year a good day for Kitch, a good day for the people we meet, and a good day for America.

Thank you, Charles Dickens.

Thank you, Tom Mazur

Thank you, students, teachers, administrators and staff of North Plainfield.

"God bless us every one!"

Tony & Kitch Mussari
The Face of America Project
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