A Christmas carol for a divided world

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The ideal vision and version of the so-called Festive Season is that of good cheer, remembrance of the Christmas message of peace on earth, happiness of a self-indulgent kind with groups of mirthful people united around a groaning board. Alas, unity seems to be in short supply.

Charles Dickens' A Christmas CarolWherever you look, there are polarised societies and groups. And the divisions are running very deep. It remains to be seen whether healing is possible: at present the universal crystal ball seems very cloudy.

Analysts claim that the USA has not been so divided since the Vietnam era; some go further back and quote the 19th century Civil War instead. British Max Hastings, a journalist and military historian who has always followed politics closely, also invokes civil war when writing about Brexit: the English conflict was fought very bitterly in the 17th century.

A Greek-American of my acquaintance says: 'We have friends who vote Republican, and we don't know why they do.' And another American friend talks of nasty family fights over the dinner table: her husband is anti-Trump, as she is, but his sisters are Trump supporters. Hastings says the British political climate is so strained 'that it is hard to sit across a table even with friends of long standing who welcome Brexit'.

The polarity is not so much between parties, as between politicians and 'the people,' many of whom feel ignored and neglected, and consider that their concerns do not matter to those in power: climate change is in all likelihood the most keenly felt problem of all. As I write, Paris has had its sixth weekend of protests and riots as a result of the gilets jaunes’ frustration with Macron’s policies, which include price hikes for fuel.

Sociologists consider that Greek society has three strata: politicians, intellectuals, and 'the people'. Here politicians have always been regarded with deep suspicion as being exploitative, lacking in integrity, and deeply dishonest, while Greece as a whole has always been riven by left/right differences. Like Spain, the nation still shows the scars of civil war: such conflicts can be said to be never-ending.

In Australia many are also disillusioned with politicians, and feel that self-interest is their main motivation. But there also seems to be widespread feeling that Australian politics has lost its way, and indeed its humanity: the detention of children on Nauru and the struggle even to get sick ones out of dire situations has shocked large sections of the population, who feel, rightly, that locking children up is no answer to any problem.

 

"We have to keep on hoping, and thus maintain our belief in the power of Wordworth's notion of the best portion of a good person's life, the 'little nameless unremembered acts of kindness and of love'."

 

Those same sections have also reached the end of the proverbial tether over the matter of hypocrisy. Recent leaders have all professed to be Christians, but simultaneously seem intent on ignoring the precept of the brotherhood of man. Would they countenance their own families suffering in the way they have condemned others to suffer?

The politicians are also largely responsible for another distressing division, that between the haves and the have-nots. While many politicians look to their property portfolios and otherwise feather their nests, large numbers of young people despair of ever getting even one foot on the property ladder. In America, the 1 per cent grows ever richer and more powerful, while tens of millions have no health insurance or assured basic income.

We have to keep on hoping, however, and thus maintain our belief in the power of Wordworth's notion of the best portion of a good person's life, the 'little nameless unremembered acts of kindness and of love'. Such acts have led, for example, to the British charity Crisis at Christmas being given 100,000 pounds in the first week of its appeal, which this year is in aid of the homeless.

In this season, I usually re-read A Christmas Carol, that timeless tour de force of the Dickensian imagination. The second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present, takes Scrooge to the shops, where the former restores good humour to squabbling delivery boys. For, they said, it was a shame to quarrel on Christmas Day.

Spirit and Scrooge then visit the Cratchits and observe the family enjoying Christmas dinner, at which Tiny Tim voices the healing blessing with which Dickens ends the novel: God bless us, every one. A unifying thought that is as pertinent to the new year as it is to Christmas.

 

 

Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, Christmas, Charles Dickens, Brexit, Donald Trump

 

 

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Thanks for your timely article Gillian. The Christmas dust is now settling and there is more time to think! It's not difficult to understand the Dickensian Scrooge and to wish a stake of holy through some drivers heart in the mad pre Christmas rush while the Christmas train approaches us headlong. In the end though, we must reiterate the words of Tiny Tim and wish the best to those around us as we see people doing good things everywhere. Wordsworth makes a clinch statement, in that it is the 'little nameless unrembered acts of kindness and of love' that better define us for the better portion of our lives.
John Whitehead | 28 December 2018


It is a strange world, rather reminiscent of the Roman and British Empires at their height, one the time Jesus was born, the other when Dickens penned A Christmas Carol. Both eras had numerous social evils. Dickens lived in the Great Age of Evangelical Preaching, when abject poverty and starvation, horrific under age labour, child prostitution and other social ills abounded. He actually did something about some of these ills in his life: he did not just write about them. He was an unconventional, but deeply believing and practical Christian. A Christmas Carol is about the possibility of real change within oneself with the consequent lifestyle change. These days we concentrate on the 'I'm OK. You're OK' sort of psychology and 'self esteem'. Dickens points to an older and deeper truth, without which, I fear, neither we, nor the world, will be OK.
Edward Fido | 10 January 2019


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