A Christmas Carol: Stave 1, Day 4 (A Caroling Excursus)

The little boy hoped to spread a little Christmas cheer by launching a carol through the key hole. His attempt, however, was thwarted by Scrooge’s threatening gesture. With Scrooge in the scene, we shouldn’t get our hopes up for much caroling. But this story is called A Christmas Carol, isn’t it? So we should not wonder that Dickens finds a way to insert at least one tune in our head thanks to this little lad—even though it cost him dearly to do so. 

So what was the little boy trying to convey? There is some debate about the meaning of the first line of the song, which hinges on how some words were defined 300 years ago and whether or not there was a comma between merry and gentleman. Thankfully Dickens changes a word and omits the comma, and suddenly things are not as sticky as they might have been. So we can remain merry, and hopefully this little blog post will bless you. 

So why did Dickens choose this song at this point in the story? Are you waiting for some keen literary insight which unlocks the whole meaning of the story? Me too. I think, as I’ve said before, that Dickens is very intentional in his use of words and his placement of events and people and conversations in his stories. So there may well be a carefully thought through reason that he chooses this carol at this time. I just don’t know what the reason is. 

I do know that this is a fun song with a great tune. I also know that it tells the Christmas story in its many verses. It has been sung at least since the 18th century and maybe as early as the 15th century. Each verse ends with the familiar line, “Tidings of comfort and joy.” And maybe that is the point after all. Scrooge, in his threatening gesture, never let the boy get that far. I wonder if it’s not so much the words we do hear the boy sing as the words that we don’t hear, but which should be running through your head about now (If not, you might want to stop and listen). There was no comfort in Scrooge’s life, nor was there any joy. 

And I don’t want you to be like Scrooge. So sing. If you’d like to honor that that little boy who tried to bring both comfort and joy to a stranger, you might want to belt out a few Christmas tunes. I won’t judge you even if it is before Thanksgiving; I’m the one posting advent pieces before Thanksgiving. 

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