There are lots of different editions of “A Christmas Carol.” Some are large and ornately illustrated, with woodcuts and curlicue letters; some are pocket-size and printed on cheap paper with smudgy ink. Either way, by the middle of page one or the top of page two of Charles Dickens’s misunderstood paean to the Christmas season, you’ve got the gist.
And the point of the tale is this: Most people are irritating and selfish, especially around Christmastime. They march around in gaudy cheerfulness, braying good wishes to everyone within earshot, repeating the tiresome pieties of the season—Happy Holidays!—and pestering friends and relations and employers for all sorts of favors and boons and cash gifts. When said goodies are firmly refused on the principle that “money does not grow on trees” and that “hey, some of us around here work for a living,” these assorted petitioners recoil in horror, as if somehow these utterly reasonable refusals are out of step with the sentiment of the moment. As if their grasping, gimme-gimme outstretched hands are somehow the true embodiment of the Christmastide.
I am aware, just so you know, that my personal interpretation of the opening pages of “A Christmas Carol” isn’t widely shared. But that doesn’t make it wrong.