The meaning of Christmas

In which Bob and Carol Cratchit, on a holiday cruise, are visited by Scrooge's ghost.


Garrison Keillor
December 12, 2007 4:00PM (UTC)

And so Mr. Scrooge kept Christmas in his heart and became a friend and benefactor to all and also got his hair and eyebrows trimmed. He made Bob Cratchit a partner, and an orthopedic surgeon fixed Tiny Tim's gimpy leg so he could jump and run, and Scrooge & Marley became ScratchitInc and got out of the countinghouse business and into venture capital.

It financed the conversion of old factories and mills into luxury apartments and reaped fabulous profits, which Mr. Scrooge wanted to give away. "Mankind is our business!" he cried. Mr. Cratchit felt that charity tended to weaken the moral values of the poor. Look at Tiny Tim. He was no longer good as gold. He shaved his head and got a spiderweb tattoo around his neck and spiked his hair and replaced his little crutch with a Fender Stratocaster and started a band, the Humbugs. He was a handful.

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"I didn't ask for charity," Bob told Mrs. Cratchit. "I worked hard for everything I got."

When Scrooge died, he was mourned by the entire city but not so much by Mr. Cratchit. He was relieved not to have the old coot wheezing about the prison population, the homeless, uninsured children or some other needy bunch. And when the solicitors came around before Christmas to make their pitch, Bob told them to stuff it. "I have a business to run," said Bob. "I can't be buying Christmas goose for everybody who doesn't have the gumption to earn his own."

He and Mrs. Cratchit lived in an eight-room loft in an old blacking factory, now called Dickens Village, and one day she threw a hob at him and burst into tears.

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"I am sick of making pudding," cried Mrs. Cratchit. "And I am sick of being called 'Mrs. Cratchit' even by my own husband. My name is Carol. I'm a person. I've been your Christmas Carol long enough. I'd like to spend the holiday on a beach, for once."

Tiny Tim was in a treatment program trying to deal with goose abuse, and the other Cratchit children -- Peter, who was in product resourcing, Belinda (process imaging) and Martha (production processing) -- had grown up to become seriously boring people.

So Bob and Carol flew to Miami and boarded the S.S. Whoopee for a 10-day cruise through the coral-blue waters under tropical skies. And had a wonderful, wonderful time. They even learned to samba. Although, on Christmas Eve, Bob found himself unable to sleep and walked the decks as the boat sailed toward Barbados. He was brooding (despite his anti-brooding medication, Welloft) about the future of luxury housing development when he heard moaning and the clanking of chains.

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It was Scrooge's ghost, lifting weights in the exercise room. Scrooge looked terrific. He said the afterlife was a blast. "You get to fly around and look in people's windows and -- wowsa, the stuff you find out. Like Fred -- he is a raging alcoholic. And the boy who ran to the poulterer's and bought me the goose? He has a boyfriend. Yikes!" And then he took Bob's hand. "I would've thought you'd be happier, my boy. No more sitting at your desk warming your hands over a few hot coals -- "

"I'm worried sick about a recession," said Bob.

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"You can expect to be visited by three spirits," said Scrooge.

"Oh, please," said Bob. "Not that again."

But in they clomped, one after the other, the jovial one with the crown of candles, and the fatherly one in the white robe, and the spooky one in the hangman's hood, with the long bony fingers. It was all the same old stuff -- Happiness of Christmases Past, Greed and Corruption, and the tombstone with Bob's name on it.

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"Enough already," said Bob. "Bor-ing. Leave me alone."

And suddenly he was on a deserted desert island, all alone under the palm trees, pigging out on crème brûlée, bread pudding and molten dark chocolate. He tried to ration himself, but the stuff was so tasty, he soon weighed 800 pounds and could barely move.

And then he awoke. It was all a dream, the whole thing. It was 1843 and he was sitting in the Red Lion pub downing a hot toddy with his good buddy Chuck Dickens, who was showing him a manuscript. "It's for Christmas so I'm up against a deadline," he said. Bob read it and told him that the story was a gold mine and to hang onto the subsidiary rights.

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(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)

© 2007 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.


Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor is the author of the Lake Wobegon novel "Liberty" (Viking) and the creator and host of the nationally syndicated radio show "A Prairie Home Companion," broadcast on more than 500 public radio stations nationwide. For more columns by Keillor, visit his column archive.

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