The weeks before Christmas around here seem primarily a celebration of crossing things off lists. There are responsibilities, and duties, and things that are great fun but still come with a deadline. Packages of goodies baked, assembled, and mailed to the island elders, because we’ve always done that? Check. Decorating cookies with the school kids? Check. Ingredients for baklava? Check. I have to make baklava. Once you do something a couple of years in a row, it is tradition. Admittedly Christmas, in addition to being a season for ginger and cloves, holly and balsam, is a season for checklists.

Once in a while we need to put down the list, take a breath, and sing.

It would have been fun to have attended the reading of “A Christmas Carol” in Portland a month ago, when Charles Dickens’ great-great-grandson, Gerald Charles Dickens, performed the piece. It happened to be one of this island’s infrequent ferry days, and I was busy taking a U-Haul full of scrap iron and beer bottles for a saltwater bath, and so could not possibly have made it to the event in time. The reading was in keeping with the public readings the elder Dickens offered back in the day, and I learned somewhere that the author had a few versions of the story on hand, so that slightly longer or shorter iterations could be produced to fit the particular evening. A few lines from the “long version” have become my favorite part of the story, although they rarely make it into movies and local productions.

Scrooge is being hauled around England by the very merry Ghost of Christmas Present, urged to take notice of the depth of feeling he doesn’t enjoy, but might. If you will indulge me:

“… And now, without a word of warning from the Ghost, they stood upon a bleak and deserted moor, where monstrous masses of rude stone were cast about like the burial place of giants, and nothing grew but moss and furze and coarse, rank grass. Down in the west the setting sun had left a streak of fiery red, which glared upon the desolation for an instant.…

‘What place is this?’ asked Scrooge.



‘A place where miners live, who labor in the bowels of the earth,’ returned the Spirit. ‘But they know me. See!’

A light shone from the window of a hut, and swiftly they advanced toward 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 yet 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 vigor sank again.

The Spirit did not tarry there, but bade Scrooge hold his robe, and passing on above the moor, sped — whither? Not to sea? To sea. To Scrooge’s horror, looking back, he saw the last of the land, a frightful range of rocks behind them, and his ears were deafened by the thundering water as it rolled, and roared, and raged.…

Built upon a dismal reef of sunken rocks, some leagues or so from shore, on which the waters chafed and dashed the wild year through, there stood a solitary lighthouse. Great heaps of seaweed clung to its base…

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 hands over the rough table at which they sat, they wished each other a merry Christmas in their can of grog, and one of them, the elder, with his face all damaged and scarred with hard weather, as the figurehead of an old ship might be, struck up a sturdy song.…

Again, the Ghost sped on, above the black and heaving sea — on, on — until being far away, as he told Scrooge, from any shore, they lighted on a ship. They stood beside the helmsman at the wheel, the lookout on the bow, the officers who had the watch, dark 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.... And every man on board, waking or sleeping, good or bad, had a kinder word for one another on that day in the year.…”