Bah, humbug?

Not on your life.

Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is 165 years old this year, but the story set in Victorian England still captures our imagination every holiday season.

It’s a popular theme for festivals in Texas such as “Dickens on the Strand” in Galveston which since 1973 has been celebrated on the first weekend in December. Despite the devastation in the downtown area from Hurricane Ike earlier this year, the show went on as usual. Many of the guests dress in costume, and often a descendant of Charles Dickens comes over from England to add a touch of authenticity.

On a lesser scale, but still attracting crowds are festivals like McKinney’s “A Dickens of a Christmas” and “Dickens in Historic Plano.” In addition, the Dallas Theater Center presents a dramatization of “A Christmas Carol” each year beginning near the end of November and continuing throughout December.

Those of us who are stay-at-homes can count on television showings of several of the many “Christmas Carol” films, including the gorgeous 1984 version and the memorable 1951 production. I was amazed to learn recently that five silent screen versions of the novel were also filmed before the advent of movies with sound tracks.

Victorians would probably not be surprised at the continuing popularity of Dickens’ tale, however. First published in 1843 when the author was 32 years old, the book sold 6,000 copies in its first five days of publication.

I’ve put together a mini-quiz to test your knowledge about this enduring classic. Don’t peek at the answers in advance or you’ll get coal in your Christmas stocking. Here goes:

1. What was the name of Scrooge’s business partner who visits him in ghostly form?

2. What does Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s clerk, ask for while working in the miser’s office?

3. Name the nephew who invites Scrooge to attend a Christmas party at his home.

4. What was the main reason Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol”?

5. Who was the jolly old man for whom the young Ebenezer worked?

6. Where does the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come take Scrooge?

7. What do Gen. George Patton and Ebenezer Scrooge have in common?

8. How did Dickens help satisfy the public’s love of this and other of his stories?

9. On what errand did Scrooge send a young neighborhood boy early Christmas morning?

10. Who objected to drinking a toast to Scrooge on Christmas Day?

The answers:

1. Jacob Marley

2. Coal, to warm the bitterly cold room

3. Fred (no last name given)

4. Money, of course, to support his growing family and generate quick cash to pay off his debts.

5. Mr. Fezziwig

6. To visit the Cratchit home where Tiny Tim’s death is mourned by his family, and to the churchyard where Scrooge sees his own tombstone.

7. Both Patton and Scrooge were portrayed by film actor George C. Scott.

8. He gave public readings/lectures in both England and the United States.

9. To skedaddle and buy a huge turkey for the Cratchits’ Christmas dinner.

10. Mrs. Cratchit, who remarked to her husband, “I’ll drink his health for your sake and the Day’s, not for his.”

Readers have long been curious about the cause of Tiny Tim’s deteriorating health. The answer came in 1992 when Dr. Donald Lewis, an American pediatric neurologist, was prompted by his wife, a Dickens fan, to look into Tim’s symptoms. He diagnosed the youngster with what is called “distal renal tubular acidosis.”

Dickens could not have known about this kidney condition — it was not recognized until the 20th century — but medics of that time did have an effective antacid treatment, an alkaline solution, and thanks to Scrooge’s help, the boy could be treated and cured.

“A Christmas Carol” is generally considered a secular holiday book, for there is no mention of the Christ Child’s birth — the reason for the season. However, there are strong spiritual overtones to the story. It is a tale of a man’s redemption.

Ebenezer Scrooge, who early in the story queries “Are there no poorhouses?” when he is asked to donate money for the needy, later feels genuine sorrow, not only for his behavior to others but for what he himself had become.

Dickens describes the change in these words: “He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew ... and it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, ’God Bless Us, Every One.’”

Ferguson is a feature writer for the Herald-Banner.

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