Christmastime always makes me think of Charles Dickens. In the 1800s, he wrote stories about life in London. Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, and Oliver Twist made him popular all over the world.
But to me, his greatest work is a novella he wrote in a hurry just before Christmas in 1843 because he was out of money. This was A Christmas Carol, in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. Starting with the eerie line, “Jacob Marley was dead, to begin with” , he weaves a tale of greed and regret, love and loss and redemption, that warms my heart every time I read it.
When I was teaching third grade, I used this story as the basis of of our literature lessons in December. I would read an abridged version of the story aloud over the course of several days. We would brainstorm words to describe Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge and then track his movement on Christmas Eve from reality to dream-like state, then back to reality. The story follows a classic Hero’s Journey, with the unlikely hero returning to real life with his reward of self-awareness and the joy of redemption.
For art lessons during those weeks, we learned about drawing faces to illustrate personality traits. Scrooge’s anger showed in pinched lips and wrinkled brows; Tiny Tim’s eternal optimism shone from his thin face.
And, in my humble opinion, the best re-telling of this story was made in 1992 by Brian Henson and his team of geniuses, The Muppets. Yes, the Muppets, Jim Henson’s puppets that we know and love. So, after we had analyzed and explored the story, we would watch the movie!
Human Michael Caine plays Scrooge to Kermit the frog’s Bob Cratchit, Gonzo’s Charles Dickens and a cast of mice, cows, and Christmas ghosts. The silliness of the Muppets softens the grim tale of Scrooge facing his greatest failings and his greatest fears all in one evening.
And because the Muppet version of the story includes songs, we interpreted lyrics. We noticed that songs sung by Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim have mostly words like “gift” and “light”, where the song describing Scrooge is heavy with words like “grim”, and the painfully true line, “There’s nothing in nature that freezes your heart like years of being alone.” I would write the songs out on long sheets of paper and circle words as we discussed them, creating a ‘Found Word’ poem in the process.
And of course, the overall message of hope for the future shows that while we cannot undo mistakes of the past, every day (in this case, Christmas Day) is ours to grasp and move forward with.
As you can tell, I loved teaching this story. Seeing students who were struggling with English grasp a new word because of its emotional impact, or hearing small groups singing the lyrics at our class party, brought tears to my eyes.
I recommend The Muppet Christmas Carol to anyone older than 7 and on this side of the grave.