Standing in the dark on Friday night, I listened to the buzz of the audience.
A noisy crowd before the curtain is an actor’s favorite fuel, and this one kept building … and building … and building. The entire stage seemed to resonate, ready to light the cast up like a Christmas tree. One step, and the most unstoppable chain reaction since Trinity would be underway.
Not for a world premiere. Not for a screaming-hot “Hamilton” or a Disney-powered “Lion King.” But for the Longmont Theatre Company performing one of the most familiar stories in the Christmas canon.
Mr. Scrooge, you’ve still got it.
If there’s anyone who doesn’t know “A Christmas Carol” by now, welcome to Earth, and I hope the trip from Alpha Centauri was pleasant. For the rest of us, the basic plot has become part of our cultural DNA. Even on TV sitcoms, if a character makes the mistake of falling asleep on Christmas Eve after a grouchy day, we know to expect three spirits, a moral lesson, and maybe even a chorus of “God bless us, everyone!” as hearts warm and the audience applauds.
It’s a reflex. A tradition. And after 175 years, it still has power.
It’d be easy to say it’s just one more stock story. Easy to turn it into predictable melodrama. Easy to just say the familiar words and go through the motions.
But when it’s at its best, “A Christmas Carol” goes through the emotions instead.
This is somewhere we’ve all been.
Scrooge is faced with missed opportunities. With old wounds that become fresh again. With the fear of leaving the world unnoticed and unmourned, having spent a lifetime pursuing the wrong things, until the things are all that remain.
Those regrets still hit home today.
More than that, Charles Dickens gave us a tale of reaching out and truly seeing the people around you. Scrooge’s nephew Fred is joyous because he can see people opening their hearts to each other as the holiday approaches, and he can’t wait to share it himself. The Cratchits overflow with warmth and love because they constantly reach out to each other, turning even the most meager situation into a chance to be a family. Scrooge himself begins as a lonely youth who reaches out for love – and then loses sight of it, and himself, and the rest of the human race.
It’s not about a man who hates Christmas. It’s about a man who’s become closed off and needs to be reminded that other people matter, and that he can matter to them. That the rest of the world isn’t just “surplus population,” but neighbors with faces and names and needs that can be met.
And most of all, it’s about hope. That what you’ve been doesn’t have to be who you are. That while there’s life, there’s a chance to become something new.
Not without effort. Not without pain and reflection. But the best presents are the ones you work for. And this is one that all of us have needed, then and now.
It doesn’t take three ghosts and a visit from Jacob Marley (though a good night’s sleep never hurts). But it does take empathy. Self-awareness. Self-transformation. And it all leads to a perspective that opens doors and tears down walls … not least, the walls within ourselves.
So we revisit the story. We relight the hope.
And maybe, just maybe, we awaken a Christmas spirit that’s all our own.