Each year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I read the Charles Dicken’s short story, A Christmas Carol. For more than a decade now, I’ve enjoyed this classic as part of my holiday tradition. Its familiar phrases, quaint scenes, and uplifting seasonal message get me in the mood for Christmas.
I look forward to its haunted opening (i.e. “Marley was dead to begin with.”) as much as its joyful conclusion, (i.e. “And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”). Beyond the story, though, it’s the not-so subtle lessons about generosity, kindness, and gratitude that warms my soul and prepares me for this time of year.
Having read it so often, I now find myself enjoying it from different angles. This year, I was struck by a character I rarely pay attention to: good ol’ Bob Cratchit.
As I journeyed through each page, my heart was drawn towards the meek and mild yet tried and true father, husband, and employee. I realized that he is more than an underpaid, overworked clerk. At the risk of overanalyzing Dickens, it seems that Bob Cratchit is the anti-Scrooge. He displays many good, even Christian qualities such as humility, kindness, grace, and faith. (Some even argue that Dickens cast him as a Christ-like figure. The name Cratchit may come from the old English word creche which means manger, hence Bob’s baby Jesus-like meekness, mildness, and poverty.)
For what it’s worth, here’s three reasons I want to be more like Bob Cratchit.
Bob Cratchit is a virtuous man.
We often equate virtue with morality. But virtue can include good and desirable qualities of all kinds. And Bob Cratchit is a refreshing picture of a man who lives life to the fullest, even beneath the poverty line. He is a fun man. In the first chapter, we find him taking time to play a spontaneous game in the streets on Christmas Eve. (He slides down a hill “twenty times” with a group of boys.) You can just imagine his smile, laughter, and joy – something Scrooge would never do.
He is also a content man. Scrooge wants more, while Bob is seemingly satisfied. Scrooge gripes about everything, while Bob doesn’t complain in the least. Bob also makes do with what he has (wrapping a long scarf around him since he has no winter coat). He praises and feasts on the family’s paltry goose as if it were the most succulent, fattened turkey. He even tries, in ridiculous ways, to use what’s available to him even of his meager provisions, as he “warms himself at the candle.”
Bob is also a man who respects others. When Scrooge’s nephew advocates for charity at Christmas, it’s Bob who “involuntarily applauded” from the next room. He even respects his wicked boss. Bob is the one who proposes a toast to his family for “Scrooge, the founder of the feast.” And he is the one who takes up for Scrooge when his wife objects and gives her harsh criticism of his employer. In many respects, Bob already is what Scrooge needs to become.
Bob Cratchit is a family man.
Cratchit has a wife (the only one that calls him “Robert.”) She’s a spark plug of a woman, who doesn’t mind speaking her mind. (She calls Scrooge an “odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling man” in front of her children, much to her husband’s chagrin.) In addition, there are several children in the family. Each one adores Bob in every scene.
Even though their house seems cold and drafty, it is yet somehow filled with the snug and cozy feelings of love and paternal care. Bob doesn’t have much to give to his family, but he gives them what he has: affection (he “hugged his daughter to his heart’s content”), optimism (“he said that Tiny Tim was growing strong and hearty”), and praise (He repeatedly refers to Mrs. Cratchit as a “good wife” and to her pudding as “the greatest success achieved since their marriage began.”) He literally carries Tiny Tim on his shoulders while metaphorically carrying the spirits of the entire family too.
Whereas Scrooge only thinks of himself, Bob is always thinking of others. Even after Tiny Time passes away in the third vision, Bob responds for the sake of his wife and children. He comes home, sensing their pain and loss, and yet “was very cheerful with them, and spoke pleasantly to all the family.” In another scene, Bob rejoices to see his oldest daughter Martha and encourages his son Peter in his career.
He is a tender husband and a kind father. Unlike many men, Bob Cratchit is not a mere thermometer – reflecting the temperature of his home; he is an active thermostat, regulating and warming it as needed. Scrooge’s house is massive, but dark; while Bob’s home is small yet radiant.
Bob Cratchit is a spiritual man.
The second time Bob Cratchit appears in the book, he’s nowhere to be seen. His family is anxiously waiting for him. It’s Christmas Day and he’s late. We know that he’s not at work (Scrooge begrudgingly gave him “the entire day” off.) So where is he? It’s easy to miss, but if you read it closely Bob took Tiny Tim to church.
Mrs. Cratchit asks her husband how he behaved. “As good as gold and better,” Bob said. Bob’s next words bring a tear to my eye every time I read them:
“Somehow (Tiny Tim) gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, (Him) Who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”
But there’s one religious element that I just saw for the first time this year. The most famous words in the book come at the end. Who doesn’t remember the iconic words of Tiny Tim? We imagine him to be a spiritual prodigy. But that may not be so.
Read the story carefully. You will discover that Tiny Tim didn’t come up with those memorable words all on his own. He says those famous words after hearing his family say it first. And yet they all say it in reply to someone else: Bob. He is the one that sets the spiritual example by first declaring, “A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!” The family echoes him, and its then that Tiny Tim speaks. We remember the words of Tiny Tim but it’s Tiny Tim who is remembering the words of his father.
There is a wonderful lesson to be learned from Scrooge’s drastic change. And yet, there’s an equally wonderful lesson about Bob Cratchit’s faithfulness and humility.
May “God bless us, every one” – to be more like Bob and less like Scrooge this Christmas.