In Stave III of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Christmas Present, the third of the three spirits that visit Ebenezer Scrooge this night, takes the miserly, angry old man to a number of destinations, each equally bleak, but each just as equally touched by the spirit of the season. When Dickens’ story opens, Scrooge is depicted in the most negative of lights, caring nothing for those around him; blood-relative, employee, stranger, whoever crossed his path was invariably greeted with a scowl and an admonition against the joyfulness of the Christmas season. This depiction of the “wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner” sets the stage for the story of redemption to follow. Scrooge, of course, is visited first by the ghost of his late-business partner Jacob Marley, who warns Scrooge of the fate that awaits him should he fail to amend his ways. Marley’s ghost further warns Scrooge that he will be visited by the three spirits, the first of which, the Ghost of Christmas Past, reminds the old man of the melancholy existence he led as a child and of the promise of a happy life once available for the taking. Scrooge, however, took a different, more spiritually deleterious path – a path now illuminated by the Ghost of Christmas Present. This ghost, as noted, transports Scrooge to various unsettling settings, including the “bleak and desert moor,” the solitary lighthouse by the sea, and the ship plying the lonely, dark waters. The purpose of these experiences is very clear. Each setting is intrinsically lonely and desolate, yet the few individuals who live or work at each place are invariably infected by the spirit of the season. Referring to the desert moor, which Dickens describes as “where monstrous masses of rude stone were cast about, as though it were the burial-place of giants; and water spread itself wheresoever it listed, or would have done so, but for the frost that held it prisoner; and nothing grew but moss and furze, and coarse rank grass,” Scrooge asks, “What place is this?” to which the ghost replies: “A place where Miners live, who labour in the bowels of the earth,” returned the Spirit. What becomes apparent to Scrooge about this dismal setting is that the family that these two invisible interlopers observe, desperately poor though they are, is nevertheless filled with the joyous spirit of Christmas:
“A light shone from the window of a hut, and swiftly they advanced towards it. Passing through the wall of mud and stone, they found a cheerful company assembled round a glowing fire. An old, old man and woman, with their children and their children’s children, and another generation beyond that, all decked out gaily in their holiday attire. The old man, in a voice that seldom rose above the howling of the wind upon the barren waste, was singing them a Christmas song—it had been a very old song when he was a boy— and from time to time they all joined in the chorus. So surely as they raised their voices, the old man got quite blithe and loud; and so surely as they stopped, his vigour sank again.”
Similarly, at the lighthouse, as physically and emotionally isolated a venue as can be imagined, Scrooge observes the lighthouse’s occupants embracing the holiday spirit:
“But even here, two men who watched the light had made a fire, that through the loophole in the thick stone wall shed out a ray of brightness on the awful sea. Joining their horny hands over the rough table at which they sat, they wished each other Merry Christmas in their can of grog; and one of them: the elder, too, with his face all damaged and scarred with hard weather, as the figure-head of an old ship might be: struck up a sturdy song that was like a Gale in itself.”
And, finally, the ghost takes Scrooge to the ship sailing the rough, dark waters of the sea, from above which they observe the ship’s crew dutifully performing its dangerous work under the most arduous of conditions:
“They stood beside the helmsman at the wheel, the look-out in the bow, the officers who had the watch; dark, ghostly figures in their several stations; but every man among them hummed a Christmas tune, or had a Christmas thought, or spoke below his breath to his companion of some bygone Christmas Day, with homeward hopes belonging to it. And every man on board, waking or sleeping, good or bad, had had a kinder word for another on that day than on any day in the year . . .”
Scrooge is surprised to witness the solemnity and respectfulness with which each member of the crew performs his duty while inculcated with the spirit of the Christmas season. The purpose of these experiences was to illustrate for Scrooge the importance of the season and how divorced from financial considerations is the reason for the observance of Christmas. Heretofore, Scrooge has been concerned only with money. He cannot fathom how anybody without money can be happy, despite the fact that he himself is the wealthiest man in town yet lives a solitary bitter existence. By showing Scrooge the contrasts of poverty and isolation on the one hand and the inner peace and joy that Christmas brings to even the most unfortunate among us, the ghost is exposing the old man to the true meaning of the season. These people – the minors, the lighthouse caretakers, the ship’s crew – are all much less financially fortunate than Scrooge, yet each is filled with the joy of the Christmas season.