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09
Dec

What the Dickens Happened to Christmas?

 

The first weekend each December, in the beautiful, historic village of Port Jefferson— the locally renowned Dicken’s Festival takes place. This is where the village is transformed into the Dickensian (Victorian) era, with streets filled with roaming characters such as Father Christmas, Scrooge, the Town Crier and the beloved chimney sweeps. Island Christian Church’s Port Jefferson campus, built in 1855 is itself a historic landmark, serves as the “command center” for the festival.

The inspiration of Dicken’s Festival is, of course, Charles Dickens’ best-known short story, “A Christmas Carol.” It was first published in London by Chapman & Hall in 1843. The novella tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, an old miser who is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. After their visits, Scrooge is transformed into a kinder, gentler man.

According to British historian Ronald Hutton, “The current state of the observance of Christmas is largely the result of a mid-Victorian revival of the holiday, spearheaded by ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Dickens catalyzed the emerging Christmas as a family-centered festival of generosity, in contrast to the dwindling church-centered observations, as new middle-class expectations arose in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.” Indeed, Dickens is considered a significant influence on the modern Western observance of Christmas and inspired and helped revive several aspects of the holiday, such as family gatherings, seasonal fare, decorating and overall generosity of spirit.

While there is discussion among academics as to whether this was a fully secular story, or if it is a Christian allegory, “A Christmas Carol” did deliver a positive message that Christmas is not about wealth and status, but about giving and helping others— especially the less fortunate. Certainly, there are Christian principles contained therein.  In fact, the Dickens classic made the term “Christmas spirit” a household term. Note, however, the small “s” in spirit— that is because, while the Dickens’ classic did much to revive the celebration of Christmas as mentioned, it did contribute to the secularization of the holiday which much of the world celebrates today. A Christmas that is fraught with stress, heavy spending and just jammed with activity… and then it’s over!

The small “s” came to mean: “Peace on earth and goodwill towards men.” For many people this sums up the Christmas season—a general warmth towards others, singing some carols, being charitable, etc. However, that full quote (Luke 8:14) begins with the all important, “Glory to God in the highest…” That means God’s peace is not a reward for those who have goodwill, but a gracious gift to those who are the objects of His goodwill. Therein lies the difference.

Like the shepherds to whom that was first proclaimed, they responded by seeking the Child… seeking Christ. It is the most important thing about Christmas. Everything else is secondary. We need to respond in that same way—with haste as they did (Luke 2:15). As we celebrate Christmas, let us pursue that which is not expensive (though it is costly), that which is not stressful, seasonal or temporary.

-Pastor Joe Garofalo

We hope you’ll join us as we celebrate the season and pursue Jesus together. Click HERE for upcoming events and services.

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