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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Old Tradition Set Aside

Normally I would regret the laying aside of any deeply rooted tradition, especially one involving Sir Patrick Stewart. However, since the tradition started with a busted flat, empty social life and a desperate need to be by myself for the holidays and none of those things are exactly the conditions of my life at this time, I think I can cut myself some slack.

I had a cute little 2nd story apartment in the house I grew up in when the tradition started. It started out as a way for me to calm my nerves before I had to deal with the chaos of holiday schedules and the lectures that invariably came with family gatherings. Positioned on the camel back loveseat, surrounded by Victorian trappings of my choosing, with a plate of soft gingerbread cookies & lemon curd (thank you Michelle Ward for that flavor combo!) and some tea in one of Grama Ada's depression era cups, I settled in to listen to Patrick Stewart bring the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol to life while bathed in the glow of tree lights.

Good Afternoon!

Of course we all know the story of his one man play, performed yearly in London and how when it hit America during his tenure as Jean-Luc Picard on the Enterprise his fan base exploded with joy. I'd read the articles, seen the snippets on the talk shows, and that was all there was. This was pre-Internet kids. Literally about 4 years before Al Gore invented it. (What a rube!) There was no instant posting to YouTube, Facebook, Reddit etcetera. With the clamor behind these news items the capitalist wheel began to turn in an attempt to spread the joy & accumulate new wealth.

There was talk about making it a book on tape. Sold! Except it took a lot of years to materialize. When I was doing my paper route I had the lady who owned the Book-on-Tape store hunting for it for almost 4 years. And she did finally track it down. I bought that sucker right away. In the meantime Hallmark or TNT channel put it into production with Richard E. Grant and Dominic West in supporting roles. It was a truly amazing production and my favorite of all of them. And not just because the Captain is in it. It's an English Story and I think the first production I'd ever seen with a British cast. It wasn't just that though.... there was actually magic happening during that production and you could see it in the quality of the performances and the set design. I don't think anyone will ever make a better production.

When it was finally offered on DVD I snagged that right away too. And my tradition went from listening to watching.

Over the years I've changed as my circumstance changes. My reaction to the production (truly only a once a year viewing) has changed. When I began I rooted for the transformation. Dominic West is the perfect person to deliver Nephew Fred's lines because he is just naturally kind with a strength that other Fred's have lacked. Most people cast him as a skinny rail of a man to emphasize his relationship to Scrooge perhaps? But Dominic West is tall, broad, almost barrel, chested with a Bull in a China shop physique and the assuredness and self possession not to actually break things. He is physically modeled closer to the Ghost of Christmas Past. You connect him more to the natural affability of the specter and less to the misery Scrooge. And it works. As a viewer, I felt Fred's assertions that Christmas does much good for body and soul were the truest homily I had ever heard in my life. That was when I was content.

Over time I noticed that as life got more complicated and plans were upended, circumstances waned and all the things that I did to help myself were thwarted, that I aligned more with Scrooge. Could people not see the trappings leading them into the kind of poverty that Scrooge feared? Could no one see that while money is a necessary evil the emphasis should not be on evil but on necessary? As in worry less about damning your eternal soul because you want to live in a warm house and worry about how to keep your money long enough to own and heat that house.

Oh I hated Scrooge for his callous belief in work houses and asylums and the confident belief that those who can not take care of themselves should go there. There is a reason many people would rather die than go to one of those institutions..... institutionalized crime, it's insidious what can be done to another in the name of Christian charity. And yet, without knowing the conditions of the things that Scrooge supported he insists if one does not want to take the proffered help then one should die and decrease the surplus population. Indeed.

And being one of the surplus for so long in recent years, while I hated the callousness, I appreciated the sentiment and longed for the release that only the afterlife could bring. And so as I moved closer to thinking like Scrooge I found myself cringing at that wonderfully bubbly laugh. That laugh was the thing that I looked forward to most from the end of the production when I fist saw it. But I have changed.

With that change, it seems the only clear barometer for the progression is my reaction to A Christmas Carol. In that sense I am sad that I never found time for it this year. But a little relieved at the same time. I only barely came away with a handful of cookies to share, trees up (outside) and a lighted undecorated tree up inside before the season ended. I've lived without structure and the responsibility of home dwelling for long enough that I seem to have forgotten how to plan accordingly. So it is okay that this year did not have too many things going on at Christmas.

I exchanged one British tradition for another.... I spent the holidays with The Doctor and his message of hope and childlike wonder. And I prefer that, I think, to the war within me to cheer or condemn Scrooge. Perhaps next year we will add that back into the mix. Perhaps next year there will be a host of new traditions to enjoy....

Who knows?

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