Alexander the Great. Augustus Caesar. The Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt. Zoroaster. Jesus. What do they have in common? If the stories are to be believed they share the otherwise remarkable trait of having been immaculately conceived and ushered out upon the world through pristine passageways that had never taken any of the world in.
In other words virgin-born sons of Gods were pretty common place around the year 10000 HE. The eastern mediterranean in particular was crawling with them. If you are confused by that date its because I prefer to use the Holocene calendar which begins at the 1st evidence of humans shaping their environment rather than just responding to it and thus places our current year as 12,017. You should look it up. It’s very cool.
The reason I bring this all up is due to an exchange I had with Scott Palmer. In rehearsal for Charles Dickens Writes a Christmas Carol, Scott mentioned off hand that this was the second most important christmas story in western literature. When I asked him what the most important christmas story was he responded that is was the story of Jesus of course. I politely disagreed. A Christmas Carol is a far more important and influential Christmas story than the rather unimaginative concoction the gospel writers penned. Besides, Christmas has never actually been about Jesus anyway.
Christmas is about the Solstice. It’s about the darkest time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s about people. People huddling together in the dark, and fending off the cold with the most potent weapon ever devised to combat both inner and outer chill: human warmth. It is at the Solstice that we celebrate the return of the light from the deepest point of darkness. No story better captures that sentiment than Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol.’
The biblical story of Jesus’ birth is a liturgical myth created with the sole purpose of establishing a Davidic association for Jesus. That is why in Matthew it is told in conjunction with an elaborate and entirely made up genealogy of the man from Nazareth. You can’t be the King of the Jews without descending from THE king of the Jews. Early Christian leaders placed the mythical birth at the Solstice in an attempt to co-opt an already universally observed festival and holiday. Namely, “Natali Sol Invicti.” The Roman festival translated as “The Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.” Seriously, these buzzkills tried to overshadow something as cool as the birth of the unconquered sun.
No, I think Dickens grasped the sentiment and importance of the Yuletide far more completely than Mark or Matthew, who, in their defense, weren’t trying to at all. Dickens clearly understood, and genuinely felt, the regenerative and redemptive quality that permeates this time of year. I believe he set out to write this story with the idea of enforcing and encouraging this sentiment at a time when it was losing ground to pressures of rapid economic and cultural change.
Britain, and particularly London, just weren’t all that into Christmas by 1843. The ardently faithful of England had always been suspicious of the holiday since it had always been more of a folk festival than a religious observance. Those same mostly poor “folk” were by this time a bit more concerned with the inhumane conditions imposed upon them by the industrial revolution. It’s a little hard to be jolly when your children are dying of cholera and black lung and it’s also impossible to take time from your 20hr work day to see them off this mortal coil.
So in the midst of a very dark period in history, in the middle of a dark and chilly winter, Dickens gave us a little light, and reminded us that the light does indeed always return. It’s good to think on that. It’s good to be in this show, right now, during our current dark hour, hopefully spreading a little light around.