Overwhelmed is a one-word description of Ebenezer Scrooge in Stave Five. What overcomes Scrooge when he wakes up is joy, and later the virtue of cheerfulness. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines cheerfulness as “a mood characterized by high spirits and amusement and often accompanied by laughter.” St. Josemaria Escriva in his book, The Forge, states that “Christian cheerfulness is not something physiological. Its foundation is supernatural, and it goes deeper than illness or difficulties…True cheerfulness is something deeper, something within: something that keeps us peaceful and brimming over with joy, though at times our face may be stern.” Ebenezer Scrooge receives two gifts: joy and cheerfulness. Joy is when we see Scrooge as a young professional working under Mr. Fezziwig and at the end in Stave Five when he awakens from his time with the three spirits. The joy does not lapse but matures as Ebenezer does into cheerfulness. Let us contemplate for a brief moment these two virtues.
Stave Five flashes through many scenes and moments of someone who is filled with the joy of life. Scrooge first becomes accustomed to reality and where he is in his bed, by recognizing the bedposts. As soon as he awakens, his first promise is made aloud not just to himself but to the transcendent: “I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” (Dickens 145). As he dedicates his life, it is not to have joy always flowing in terms of laughter and dancing…that will be present. When Ebenezer states that “the Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. O Jacob Marley! Heaven and the Christmas Time be praised for this,” he understands that cheerfulness is what his time with the transcendent the evening before has brought him to understand about his life and what it means to live (Dickens 145).
At the end of the story, family and community guide Ebenezer on how to live as a man alive, full of joy and cheerfulness, though his journey to the epiphany of fellowship is not an easy or direct one. Quite to the contrary, from the days of being alone as a child at school, to the loneliness he has chosen as an adult (so he may not be disappointed by others), to even the day his business partner, Jacob Marley, is buried, it is a good day for Scrooge as he “solemnized with an undoubted bargain.” Scrooge shies away from the vulnerability of family and love (Dickens 12). However, Stave Five brings Ebenezer back into community and family life; in fact, probably the most difficult step for Scrooge on Christmas is openly wanting to be part of his family: “He passed the door a dozen times before he had the courage to go up and knock. But he made a dash and did it” (Dickens 152). As he makes himself knock on Fred’s door, he fully accepts the consequences:
‘Fred!’ said Scrooge…
‘Why, bless my soul!’ cried Fred, ‘who’s that?’
‘It’s I. Your Uncle Scrooge. I have come to dinner. Will you let me in, Fred?’
‘Let him in! It is a mercy he didn’t shake his arm off. He was at home in five minutes. Nothing could be heartier’ (Dickens 152-53).
And with the simplest of gestures, Ebenezer opens his heart to the joy and attendant cheerfulness of communion with his fellow man. The maturation of this joy and cheerfulness continues the next day, St. Stephen’s Day, when Ebenezer acts to no longer just be the employer of Bob Cratchit, but looks after his career as a mentor, his family, and more: “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend as good a master, and as good as the good old City knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough in the good old world” (Dickens 154-55).
Scrooge’s conversion to a new life of joy and cheerfulness is facilitated by a renewal of friendship with man to be sure, but also by an active and intimate engagement with the transcendent. When Dickens quietly mentions the activities of Ebenezer’s day between sending the “prize turkey” to visiting his nephew for Christmas dinner; it is made known that Scrooge “went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted the children on the head, and questioned beggars and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows; and found that everything could yield him pleasure” (Dickens 151). The Church and the Feast of the Nativity are not side notes to Dickens’ tale, but rather the underpinning. It is the incarnation of God-made-man that allows for Ebenezer to be redeemed. Ebenezer lives this redemption out for the rest of his days, his immediate joy of being alive and having a second chance is fulfilled in living a life of cheerfulness. At the beginning of the Stave Five, Ebenezer promises to live in the past, present and future; the story ends: “he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter at the outset…His own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him…and it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge” (Dickens 155).
How well do we live Christmas in our hearts?
This essay originally appeared on Western Academy’s Libertas Veritas Studium and is republished here with permission.