- Looking at TV and Film,Ramblings of a Writer/Artist,Random Musings,Talkin' 'Bout Books
A Dina Christmas Carol
- December 25, 2021
A Christmas Carol is a good story, to begin with. There’s no doubt whatever about that.
Charles Dickens was a really good author, and his prose is still highly enjoyable to read. There’s a reason why A Christmas Carol is considered the quintessential Christmas story; if you sit down and actually read the original novella, it’s just REALLY WELL WRITTEN. I mean… it’s Dickens. He had his flaws as an author, but DAMN if he wasn’t a master of the written word.
But… I don’t actually LIKE A Christmas Carol all that much. It’s GOOD, yes, but… well…
I suppose that partly it’s all the adaptations and the fact how EVERYONE does their own take on it, their own parody, their own alternate spin, their own retelling of the story with their own original characters taking the place of Scrooge and the ghosts. It’s one of the most adapted, retold, parodied or spoofed stories in the world. Even if you haven’t read the story, you probably know every story beat and a good deal of the quotes just from all the adaptations. If I said “Bah, humbug” to you, you’d know EXACTLY what I meant, right? No further words necessary.
And… I just get SICK of it, in a way I don’t get with many other over-adapted works. I still highly enjoy Alice in Wonderland and the various adaptations of it. I’m a huge Land of Oz fangirl (even if I do wish people would adapt or spin off the original books more instead of rehashing that overrated MGM musical ad nauseum). I still enjoy seeing new takes on Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood and the various stories from Greek and Norse mythology. But A Christmas Carol? I think at this point I’d rather not.
It may have something to do with… and this is kind of a confession I don’t easily make, but which I really do think I need to say… I’m not actually that fond of Christmas. You might have noticed how while I almost always do something for Halloween, when it comes to Christmas drawings and Christmas writings… those are rarer. And the reason is that I’m not really a huge Christmas fan.
And now I probably need to go on a massive detour to explain. A lot of this post is only tangentially related to A Christmas Carol and is mostly about me and my relationship with both the story and the holiday… my struggles with it over the years, and how I eventually made peace with both A Christmas Carol and Christmas itself.
I’ve written before about how Halloween is probably my fave “big holiday,” and I’m also quite fond of Easter for the “murder mystery” tradition we have here in Norway… but Christmas? It’s not like I HATE it. I’m probably not going to say “Bah, humbug!” and walk around in a dressing gown until ghosts tell me how mean I am. I don’t even own a dressing gown. But I do get tired of Christmas. And I kiiiind of blame A Christmas Carol for that?
Everyone knows modern Christmas has been hugely influenced by this story. Dickens is often credited with “saving Christmas,” with his story taking what was a vanishing and increasingly minor holiday in Anglo-Saxon Protestant countries and elevating it to the public consciousness, until it became THE MAJOR HOLIDAY of the year. This is probably not completely true, but what definitely IS true is that A Christmas Carol had a great influence on modern Christmas and the way we think about it… it’s probably the most influential Christmas story ever, at least if we disregard certain religious texts. And even if we do include the religious texts A Christmas Carol is still a pretty strong contender.
One thing it really seems to have solidified in the public consciousness is that Christmas is, and has to be, the most wonderful time of the year. And if you don’t absolutely LOVE Christmas, if you don’t get giddy at the thought of the celebrations or get filled with joy whenever you hear snippets of a Christmas song, then you’re either a total meanie whom nobody likes or you’re a miserable wretch whose life has no meaning. After all, Christmas is the magical time when everyone (or at least everyone who isn’t a total meanie or miserable wretch) is kind and generous and everyone gets along and is happy.
EXCEPT IT ISN’T! I mean, COME ON! Maybe I’m just around the wrong sort of people, but in my experience people who are mean and bigoted the rest of the year don’t take a break from being mean bigots at Christmas! And people who are kind and generous at Christmas tend to be kind and generous the rest of the year too! For all the ways the media tries to shove down my throat how WONDERFUL and MAGICAL Christmas is… I just never thought it was. And for much of my life I spent a LOT of energy trying to find and grab that magic that everyone was talking about, being happy and merry in December and… it never happened.
I didn’t really think so at the time, but in hindsight I’ve probably suffered from some form of holiday depression for most of my life. I’m not going to go into the Christmases of my childhood… they were FINE. I wasn’t miserable or anything. But there was always this nasty little thought in the back of my head telling me that I didn’t appreciate this enough, that I didn’t let the “spirit of Christmas” properly in and that this kind of empty feeling that grew a little larger every Christmas was a sure sign that I was turning into a cynical, ornery and miserable bitch who would spend her life alone and miserable because I couldn’t be part of the joy and the festivities.
Now of course I wasn’t turning into Ebenezer Scrooge. But it kind of felt like it at times, especially when I caught one of the thousands of A Christmas Carol adaptations and was blasted full-face with how PEOPLE WHO DON’T LOVE CHRISTMAS ARE ASSHOLES AND MISERABLE GITS AND YOU SHOULD LOVE CHRISTMAS OR YOU’LL DIE ALONE, UNLOVED AND UNMOURNED!!! And yes, I know that this isn’t the ACTUAL moral of the story, you don’t have to tell me that, but it’s still the vibe I got and the message I subconsciously took from it.
All of this are insights I had much later, by the way. When I was in the middle of it, I couldn’t see it and the entire thing was mostly subconscious. I just knew I kind of cringed inwardly when friends and family talked excitedly about Christmas, and hoped someone would change the subject soon… because I just couldn’t share in that joy and I was convinced something was wrong with me because I couldn’t. I don’t think anyone ever thought of me as miserable or grouchy or in any way a Scrooge, but because I couldn’t get that Christmas joy I was convinced I so desperately needed I just felt more and more empty inside. And I couldn’t let anyone KNOW this. If people knew I was getting more and more disillusioned with Christmas and that I’d never actually been that eager about it… well, I was afraid their feelings would be hurt. I didn’t want them to think I was ungrateful, or that I didn’t appreciate their efforts to make a nice Christmas. After all, very few people are as accepting and upbeat about these things as Scrooge’s nephew Fred, who cheerfully keeps inviting his uncle for Christmas and doesn’t hold grudges even though his uncle is a curmudgeon about it every year.
So I plastered on fake smiles and tried to be excited… and each time, the emptiness inside grew a little larger.
I think this drawing, if you remember that, reflects how I used to feel in early December… at the time it was just meant as a funny way to complain about how I didn’t have enough time to draw because Christmas preparations took up so much time, but… I think it actually reflects my then-mental state a little more accurately than I actually intended it to.
The only times I felt anything but empty was when I went away from what was “expected” of me and did something else. The biggest success (which thankfully was REALLY WELL RECEIVED) was my decision to start drawing my own “to-from” gift notes. See… this actually started back when I was a teenager and, as an early teenage rebellion, when was wrapping Christmas presents (something I hate doing, by the way), I just got BORED with writing “To [recipient’s name], from Dina” on stickers and putting the stickers on the wrapped presents. So at first, just because it made me feel better, I began thinking up more and more absurd people the gifts were from. “Old Auntie Tootie from the Town of Toten” was a recurring one, but others were “The Ghost of Christmases Who Never Were,” “The President of Fruitbats,” and “A kind and good-natured mind flayer.” (That last one was for one of the friends I regularly played D&D with; we’d just finished a long campaign where our characters had fought evil mind flayers.)
The next step was then to start drawing my own to/from stickers. It actually started with some crude drawings I made because I’d forgotten to actually BUY stickers, and I was surprised that everyone liked my crude drawings better than they liked the actual presents. So, I decided, if people liked my crude drawings that much, what if I actually made an EFFORT? That was the start of my tradition of making my own “to-from” notes. Very quickly I discovered that I got bored if all of them had Christmas motives, so I instead began picking a theme for every year. One year it was dragons, one year it was cats… this year it was characters from Alice in Wonderland.
(These are drawings I don’t publish online. They’re really only for that exact purpose. So please don’t ask to see them. I can post pretty much any other drawing online, but not those. Take that how you will.)
This was a Christmas tradition that I actually kind of had fun with, and one that DIDN’T make me feel empty inside. And so I think realizing this was what really in the end inspired me to change my approach to Christmas, about three years ago.
I don’t know what exactly triggered the change, or why that particular year was different. I think I just finally had enough of cringing. I had enough of going back home after a Christmas dinner, lying on the couch and feeling blue. I was sick of looking at the Christmas presents I’d got and just stowing them away because since I never actually managed to think of anything I wanted for Christmas to tell family and friends, I never actually DID get anything I wanted, and most people just got me candy and chocolate which just made me even fatter… I was just tired of chasing a magic I couldn’t have.
But then I remembered my to-from drawings. I liked doing those. I liked how people just seemed to look forward to them, and even told me that my drawings were among the highlights of the holiday. That was a Christmas tradition I got behind… and it wasn’t even a tradition, it was just something I did. Nobody else did that, at least nobody I knew. But it was something I could use my creativity on, and something I consequently enjoyed… even if it really wasn’t all that Christmassy.
So I changed my approach. The first thing I did was tell my friends and family that this year, under NO circumstances did I want any edible Christmas presents. Weirdly, I felt a lot better after that. So the second thing I did was decide to stop BOTHERING with Christmas. Oh, not to the point where I wouldn’t get presents for friends and family… I’d still do that. And I’d still do the drawings, because that was the one Christmas thing I always enjoyed. But other than that? I wouldn’t bother.
And so, for that December, I put Christmas totally out of my mind. I didn’t pay attention to the Christmas commercials, I didn’t talk about Christmas with anyone, I didn’t decorate for Christmas, I didn’t watch Christmas movies or Christmas specials, and I didn’t do anything Christmassy when it comes to my art and writing. I did take two days shopping for presents, but other than that? For the first 20 days of December, I didn’t think about Christmas at all. Even while drawing the Christmas to-from notes (I think the theme for that year was folkloric creatures, which you might have gathered is somewhat of a passion of mine) I didn’t think about Christmas at all.
AND IT WAS SUCH A RELIEF. It was easily the best December I’d had in years. Even when Christmas did come, for the first time in years I didn’t feel that inside emptiness at all. I genuinely felt… OKAY about everything. It was great. So from then on, I decided, I wouldn’t sweat Christmas. The last three years, even with Covid having forced an isolationist Christmas on most of us the past TWO years, I’ve actually enjoyed these Christmases more than… any Christmases I can remember. Solely because I stopped trying so hard to enjoy them.
And that does bring us kind of back to A Christmas Carol, Because… I know this is while Ebenezer Scrooge is still a meanie and we’re not supposed to agree with him, but when he tells Fred “Nephew, you keep Christmas in your way and I’ll keep it in mine,” but… he’s actually sort of right here. You SHOULD be able to keep Christmas in your own way, and not according to how other people think you should. Sure, he takes it much too far; being mean to his nephew, grumbling about giving his bookkeeper the day off for Christmas, harassing carollers and mocking people who collect money for charity, but that isn’t really about Christmas so much as it’s just about Scrooge being a bad person in general.
Since then, I began looking more closely at A Christmas Carol and the various adaptations. I will say, for the most part I don’t think the adaptations are that good. A couple of them have their moments, like Mickey’s Christmas Carol is enjoyable mainly because Scrooge McDuck is the perfect Ebenezer Scrooge and it was the first time Alan Young voiced the character… and A Muppet Christmas Carol wins points just because it’s the Muppets… and of all the adaptations it kind of comes closest to the original novel while at the same time putting its own mark on the story. Really, putting Gonzo and Rizzo as on-screen narrators was a stroke of genius that added both a lot more accuracy to the novel and more fun and Muppet tomfoolery.
But weirdly enough, the adaptation I turned out to enjoy the most was A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong, which aired on BBC a couple of years ago. And that’s because… well, it’s not REALLY the story of A Christmas Carol at all. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Mischief Theatre troupe, but they’ve had some success with their “Goes Wrong” plays… in which they play “The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society,” a really bad theatre company who try to put on various plays, and hilarity ensues as everything goes wrong, actors forget their lines, props malfunction, sets fall apart and everyone runs around trying to keep the play going even if everything is spinning out of control.
It started with The Play That Goes Wrong, a stage play that premiered in 2012 and at the time of writing is still being performed at London West End. Then it was followed up with Peter Pan Goes Wrong, where the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society try to take on the story of Peter Pan and of course messing that up too. Peter Pan Goes Wrong was aired as a Christmas TV special on the BBC in 2016, and the following year we got another TV special, A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong. (Then in 2020 we got the first season of the Goes Wrong Show on BBC, but that’s a story for another time.)
In A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong, the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society invade the BBC to put on their own version of A Christmas Carol, and of course everything goes wrong as per usual. Props fall apart, green-screens malfunction, Bob Cratchit can’t remember any of his lines, the Ghost of Christmas Present is morose and depressed as he talks about the joys of Christmas because the actor thinks his girlfriend is leaving him, and so forth. It’s all REALLY funny… but what makes it interesting is that, well, by now the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are established characters and the relationships between the actors is just as important as, sometimes MORE important than, the play they’re putting on.
And like I hinted at before, in this case the story isn’t really about Scrooge the cheapskate who is taught better by three ghosts… it’s about Chris, the temperamental and somewhat mean-spirited director and leader of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, who plays the role of Scrooge and whose character development mirrors the role he’s playing… because as the play goes on, some of the errors and mistakes (such as an accidental clip of a Christmas party being shown instead of a nighttime Victorian London) begins revealing to Chris that he really hasn’t been treating his colleagues all that well. And so, when Scrooge has his big breakdown and promises to be better for the future, it’s actually CHRIS having that breakdown and apologizing to all the other actors.
A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong is probably my ABSOLUTE FAVE adaptation of A Christmas Carol, beating out both Mickey and Muppets… not because it’s such a fabulous adaptation of the original story, but more because it’s not actually TRYING to be a good adaptation. It uses the adaptation as a framework for lots of comedy and pratfalls, and of course for the story of the actors, and the director/actor who realized that in the end he did appreciate them and should treat them a little better.
And weirdly, this kind of mirrors my own realization about Christmas. Because my Christmases didn’t become actually enjoyable until I stopped trying to enjoy them, and more importantly stopped trying to get the joy from the “traditional Christmas” and do the traditional “Christmas cheer” thing. Trying to do that just left me feeling empty inside. When I focused on just doing things I wanted to do, and not bothering about Christmas that much, I began having a lot more fun.
So, if I don’t want to clean house or decorate for Christmas, I won’t. If I want to have pizza or pancakes or roast chicken for Christmas dinner, I will. If I want to celebrate by drawing erotic hypno comics or writing fanfics or watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I’ll do THAT. No more doing things just because “it’s Christmas, it’s supposed to be like this.” I decided on this, and I’m feeling a lot better. To the point where I actually DID watch a couple of Christmas movies yesterday. I mean, I skipped through most of one of them, but still, I didn’t cringe. At least not that much. That’s a win in my book.