This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.

Scrooge and Marley were partners for I don't know how many years. Oh! But Scrooge was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.

The door of Scrooge's counting-house was open that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was copying letters. Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk's fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one coal.

``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!''

``Christmas a humbug, uncle!'' said Scrooge's nephew. ``You don't mean that, I am sure.''

``I do,'' said Scrooge. ``Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? what reason have you to be merry? You're poor enough.''

``Come, then,'' returned the nephew gaily. ``What right have you to be dismal? what reason have you to be morose? You're rich enough.''

``Bah!'' he said again; and followed it up with ``Humbug.''

``Don't be cross, uncle,'' said the nephew.

``What else can I be,'' returned the uncle, ``when I live in such a world of fools as this Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas. 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!''

``Uncle!'' pleaded the nephew.

``Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!''

``There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,'' returned the nephew: ``Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that -- as 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 people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!''

Scrooge took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern; and having read all the newspapers, and beguiled the rest of the evening with his banker's-book, went home to bed. He lived in chambers which had once belonged to his deceased partner. The yard was so dark that even Scrooge, who knew it’s every stone, was fain to grope with his hands. The fog and frost so hung about the black old gateway of the house. Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large. And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change: not a knocker, but Marley's face. It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar. It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up upon its ghostly forehead. As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again.

He did pause, with a moment's irresolution, before he shut the door; and he did look cautiously behind it first, as if he half expected to be terrified with the sight of Marley's pigtail sticking out into the hall. But there was nothing on the back of the door, except the screws and nuts that held the knocker on, so he said ``Pooh, pooh!'' and closed it with a bang.

Up Scrooge went, not caring a button for that: darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it. But before he shut his heavy door, he walked through his rooms to see that all was right. He had just enough recollection of the face to desire to do that. Nobody under the bed; nobody in the closet; nobody in his dressing-gown, which was hanging up in a suspicious attitude against the wall. Lumber-room as usual. Old fire-guard, old shoes, two fish-baskets, washing-stand on three legs, and a poker.

Quite satisfied, he closed his door, and locked himself in; double-locked himself in, which was not his custom. Thus secured against surprise, he took off his cravat; put on his dressing-gown and slippers, and his night-cap; and sat down before the fire to take his gruel.

And yet that face of Marley, seven years dead, came like the ancient Prophet's rod, and swallowed up the whole. The same face: the very same. Marley in his pigtail, usual waistcoat, tights, and boots; the tassels on the latter bristling, like his pigtail, and his coat-skirts, and the hair upon his head. The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge observed it closely) of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel. His body was transparent; so that Scrooge, observing him, and looking through his waistcoat, could see the two buttons on his coat behind. Though he looked the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before him; though he felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes.

``How now!'' said Scrooge, caustic and cold as ever. ``What do you want with me?''

``Much!'' -- Marley's voice, no doubt about it… You don't believe in me,'' observed the Ghost.

``I don't,'' said Scrooge. ``Because, you may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.

At this the spirit raised a frightful cry, and shook its chain with such a dismal and appalling noise, that Scrooge held on tight to his chair, to save himself from falling in a swoon. Scrooge fell upon his knees, and clasped his hands before his face.

``Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?''

``I wear the chain I forged in life,'' replied the Ghost. ``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. Is its pattern strange to you?''

Scrooge trembled more and more.

``The weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself. It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!''

Scrooge glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of iron cable: but he could see nothing.

``But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,'' faultered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

``Business!'' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ``Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!''

It held up its chain at arm's length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.

``At this time of the rolling year,'' the spectre said, ``I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down….

December 1843, Charles Dickens, abridged

Forever this brief season, like lightening, split us. Some are ‘Merry.’ Others are sad, grim and even cynical. If we give a moment’s attention to only the rituals and symbols surely they can appear empty or we can be taken by loneliness not experiencing the warmhearted extended family Rockwell painted now flashing in every shop window and digital device. Who can live up to that ideal?

I do not pretend that the aches these images may evoke are not real and deep. Like Scrooge’s Ghosts they lay simmering beneath he surface of our lives. The antidote to cynicism is the power to imagine optimism. Loneliness disappears when we are giving to others.

Ritual and symbols are indeed dead as Marley, dead as a door-nail and always have been. It is the spirit, the transpersonal inner flame that we give to them that brings light, life and meaning. This is our calling and our challenge; to fill the symbols with our light and not to expect dead symbols to give us something we do not remember. The symbols and rituals are silver bells ringing to remind us of who we really are and what really matters; as Charles said and not so long ago…

“When men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys…. remembering that Mankind is our business. The common welfare, charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, are all of our business. The dealings of our trade are but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of this business!''

The light the symbols remind us of glows bright every time we look and remember.

Michael Mendizza