“External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he; no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty.”Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

It’s difficult not to have some affection for Dickens’ classic tale of conversion and redemption. The lonely miser is transformed, the child is saved and all are blessed with a very merry Christmas. Every Christmas story should conclude with such a happy ending.

Recently, I was sitting through a production of A Christmas Carol at The Great American Melodrama in Oceano. Its production is an abbreviated version that plays itself out in about an hour. Still, it manages to carry the same weighty messages of the full production without the fluff and filler.

I couldn’t help but wonder as I watched how little things have really changed in the years since Dickens put his pen to paper to create this holiday tale. Or perhaps we are just coming full circle.

The novella was first published in 1843 and quickly became a driving force in rekindling the old English Christmas traditions. But it was also seen as an indictment of the concentration of wealth to the upper class.

On the day I went to see the production, headline news announced census data showing that 1 in 2 Americans is considered poor or low income. There were the requisite stories to underscore the significance and implications of the data that would, I think, melt even Scrooge’s heart.

I believe there was a time when such data might be the source of some shame for our culture. Not so much so today. Conservative pundits were quick to point out that poverty today means cell phones and big screen televisions. They offered no data of course, only hate-filled anecdotes about how the poor are sucking the life out of the rich.

Sadly, the statistics speak for themselves. In 2010, 48.8 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 32.6 million adults and 16.2 million children. This is the highest number ever recorded since statistics have been taken. About one in six U.S. households has difficulty keeping food on the table. And California is one of nine states identified as having significantly higher hunger rates than the national average.

And then, of course, there is the difficult problem of Tiny Tim. The ghost of Christmas future points to the crutch in the corner without an owner and we witness the grief of the Cratchit family who has lost a son. I couldn’t help but recall the presidential candidate debate where cheers erupted when it was suggested the uninsured should be left to die. One hundred and sixty-eight years later, we can be as callous (or even more so) as the icy Mr. Scrooge.

There is the theme of hope in Dickens’ tale as Scrooge implores the last spirit, “’Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,’ Scrooge said. ‘But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!’”

And thus it was, but not before a radical turning about on Scrooge’s part. And that, in simple terms, is what we need — a radical turning about. We need a radical shift from self-interest and self-concern to focusing on others and the common good.

Scrooge is a man driven by fear and hate. His story is painfully familiar and, in today’s world, hits frighteningly close to home. The moral of the story speaks to us this Christmas; I hope we can heed the message. In Dickens’ words, “It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humor.”

Merry Christmas and, “God bless us, everyone.”

— Tim Durnin is a father and husband. He can be reached at tdurnin@gmail.com for comments, discussion, criticism, suggestions and story ideas.