Christmas Stories: 'A Christmas Carol'

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Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Crachit, Tiny Tim -- everyone knows these names. The same goes for the song "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" and the phrase "Bah! Humbug!" Charles Dickens created an unforgettable world in "A Christmas Carol," one of the most famous Christmas stories ever written. The story is especially beloved in Dickens' native England, where families retell it each December as one of their Christmas traditions.

"A Christmas Carol," of course, centers on Scrooge, who is led through various stages of his life by a ghost and realizes he has done more bad than good. But Scrooge ultimately finds redemption and spreads Christmas cheer to one and all. The following adaptation by Lisa Harkrader captures the essence of "A Christmas Carol." Whether you live in England, the United States, or any other country, it's a perfect addition to your own family's Christmas tradition.

"A Christmas Carol"

Ebenezer Scrooge hunched over his account books. Scrooge's clerk, Bob Crachit, huddled at his own desk in the tiny outer office. The front door burst open, and a blast of December air whipped through the two rooms.

"Merry Christmas, Uncle!" said Scrooge's nephew, as he strode into the office.

"Christmas," muttered Scrooge. "Bah! Humbug!"

"You can't mean that, Uncle," said his nephew. "Why don't you close early today?"

"And become like other Christmas fools, buying gifts I can't afford?" Scrooge turned back to his books. "No, thank you."

"Suit yourself," said his nephew. "But I hope you'll at least stop by for Christmas dinner tomorrow."

When his nephew opened the door to leave, another gust of wind burst into the office. With it came the sound of carolers singing. Scrooge banged his window open. "You!" he shouted at the carolers. "You there!"

One of the carolers, a young boy, stopped singing and stared up at Scrooge.

"How can a person do an honest day's work with you howling outside his office?" Scrooge snarled. "Find another street corner for your noise. Leave me in peace!"

Scrooge banged the window shut. "Merry Christmas, indeed," he muttered. "What do they have to be merry about?"

"Sir?" Bob Crachit tapped on Scrooge's door. "I've copied all the letters and filed the paperwork. I also brought in more firewood and swept out the ashes. And, well, it's closing time, Mr. Scrooge."

"Fine," said Scrooge. "If your work is finished, you may leave."

"Mr. Scrooge?" said Cratchit. "Tomorrow is Christmas, a day to spend with family."

"You'd like the day off, I suppose?" Scrooge said, as he glared at him.

"Well, yes, Mr. Scrooge," said Cratchit. "After all, it IS Christmas."

"Christmas? Bah!" Scrooge shook his head. "Fine. Take tomorrow off, but be here early the next day."

"Yes, sir. You can count on it, sir," Crachit said, as he pulled his coat snug around him. "Merry Christmas, Mr. Scrooge."

"Humbug," growled Scrooge. He opened the front door, and Crachit scurried out. At the corner, neighborhood boys were sledding down a steep hill. Crachit leaped headlong onto one of the sleds and slid to the bottom of the hill, laughing and shouting, "Merry Christmas!"

"Fool," Scrooge scowled. He settled back into his chair and finished tallying his accounts.

Darkness fell, and Scrooge closed the last account book. He stood and stretched, his back stiff from the cold and the long hours hunched over his work.

As he locked the countinghouse, he glanced at the sign above the door. It read: THE FIRM OF SCROOGE AND MARLEY.

"Jacob Marley," said Scrooge. "A man who knew the value of a day's work. Too bad he's gone."

Scrooge trudged home, climbed the steps to his bedroom, and huddled in a chair beside the fire to eat his evening gruel.

CLANK! "What the devil?" Scrooge sat still and listened. He heard nothing.

"I must have been dreaming." He settled back into his chair.

CLANK! CLANK! Scrooge sat up straight. "That was no dream," he muttered.

"No, it wasn't a dream, Ebenezer." A voice echoed through Scrooge's bedroom.

A man, pale and ghostly, drifted into the room.

Scrooge stared at him. "Marley? Jacob Marley? But you're--you're--"

"Dead." The ghost nodded. "And paying for my sins."

"Sins?" Scrooge frowned. "But you were a good man, Jacob. A fine businessman."

"Business? Hah!" Marley's ghost shivered. "Business is meaningless. I never learned the value of love and charity while I was alive. Now I wander the earth, unable to find peace. The same fate awaits you, Ebenezer, unless you change your ways. Three spirits will visit. The first will arrive when the clock strikes one."

The ghost tipped his hat and vanished. Scrooge pulled the covers over his head.

BONG! The clock struck one. "Ebenezer? Ebenezer Scrooge?"

Scrooge peeked out from beneath his sheets. A woman, pale and shimmering, stood beside his bed. In her hand she held a sprig of holly.

"Who are you?" whispered Scrooge.

"I am the Ghost of Christmas Past," said the ghost, as she motioned to the door.

Scrooge crept from his bed and followed the ghost. The room began to dissolve, and soon he was staring into the window of another room, small and dark.

"This house," said Scrooge. "It seems familiar. Why, it's the house I grew up in."

"Yes." The ghost nodded. "And the boy? Is he familiar, too?"

Scrooge peered through the window. A small boy sat alone in the corner, reading a book. Scrooge's eyes grew wide. "It's me as a child! But why am I -- why is he -- sitting by himself?" Scrooge stared at the boy. "It's Christmas day, isn't it?"

The ghost nodded, then asked, "And where are your parents?"

Scrooge frowned. "Working, I suppose. They worked hard when I was young to give me the things I needed."

"And did they?" asked the ghost. She motioned toward the boy. "Did they give you what you

needed?"

Scrooge studied the boy. He looked well-fed and well-dressed, but his eyes were sad and scared. He reminded Scrooge of the caroler from the night before. Then he remembered how he had yelled and frightened the boy.

To keep reading "A Christmas Carol," see the next page.

Christmas Stories: 'A Christmas Carol,' Part II

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Here is the second part of "A Christmas Carol":

"We have many places to visit," said the ghost, "and very little time. Come."

The small, dark house faded away, and in its place stood a bright office filled with many workers. "I know this office!" said Scrooge. "I worked here. I was apprenticed to Mr. Fezziwig. Look! There he is."

Scrooge pointed to a gray-haired man carrying a platter of roast beef into the office. Mrs. Fezziwig followed with a tray of pastries. Behind her came house servants carrying bread and pudding and mincemeat pies.

"Stop your work," Mr. Fezziwig told the office clerks. "It's Christmas Eve!"

A fiddler began playing, and Mr. Fezziwig led his wife to the center of the room. He took her in his arms, and they danced a lively jig around the office. The clerks clapped and tapped their feet, and several other couples joined the dance.

The Ghost of Christmas Past glanced at Scrooge. "This certainly isn't the firm of Scrooge and Marley, is it? Do you recognize the clerk in the corner?"

Scrooge stared at the young man. "Me," he whispered. "It's me."

The young Scrooge laughed and clapped to the music. His eyes were bright, his cheeks pink -- so different from Scrooge's own clerk, Bob Crachit, who had huddled in the cold the night before, working quietly, his face pale and shadowed.

"I hope this party never ends," young Scrooge called out. "Let's stay and dance forever!"

Old Scrooge thought about Bob Crachit, who had scurried away from the office as quickly as he could on Christmas Eve, never glancing back. "Crachit couldn't wait to get away from me," he said.

The music faded. Fezziwig's office dissolved into darkness.

"We have one more stop," said the ghost. "Our time is running out."

The ghost waved her arms, and Scrooge saw his younger self again, sitting in a garden beside a lovely young woman.

The woman's eyes filled with tears as she said, "I can't marry you, Ebenezer. There's something you love more than me."

"Nonsense," said the young Ebenezer. "I love no other woman."

"That's true." The woman dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief. "You love money. You love it more than anything, and I won't settle for second best."

The woman ran from the garden. Old Scrooge and the ghost followed her.

When she stopped, Scrooge could see that she was a few years older. She was in a parlor that had been brightly decorated for Christmas. Children laughed and played at her feet. A little girl threw her arms around the woman and gave her a kiss.

"Help me tie my bonnet, Mama," said the girl.

Scrooge blinked. "Her children?"

The ghost nodded. "They could have been yours."

The door opened, and a man entered, his arms piled high with gifts.

"Papa!" the children shouted.

They ran to him, hugging his legs. The man laughed and passed out the gifts. Then he pulled his wife into his arms and leaned down to kiss her.

"Stop!" Scrooge clapped his hands over his face. "Take me home! I can't bear it." He collapsed to the floor.

BONG! BONG! The clock struck two. Scrooge blinked. He was back in his own bed.

"Thank goodness," he said, as he sank back onto his pillow. "It was a dream."

"No, Ebenezer. It wasn't a dream." A large man, glowing and transparent, stared down at Scrooge. "I am the Ghost of Christmas Present," he said. "I have much to show you. Grab onto my robe." He clapped his filmy hands. "Hurry! We cannot be late."

Scrooge touched the hem of the spirit's robe. The bedroom vanished, and Scrooge found himself on a busy, snowy street. The dark of night had disappeared, and now the morning sun peeked over holly-draped storefronts. Men and women bustled along the sidewalks, while their children laughed and skipped at their sides.

"Everyone looks so happy," grumbled Scrooge.

"Of course they do," said the ghost. "It's Christmas."

Scrooge shook his head. "You mean they all woke up happy, simply because the calendar said December 25?"

The ghost smiled. "Yes. Today they can forget their labors and their troubles, and simply enjoy their families, the fine food on their tables, and the blessings in their lives. When was the last time you stopped and enjoyed the moment, Ebenezer? Try it now. Close your eyes."

Scrooge frowned and closed his eyes. The aroma of freshly baked bread mingled in the crisp morning air. Horses clip-clopped over the cobblestone street. An icy snowflake prickled his tongue,

and he realized his mouth had stretched open into a wide smile.

The ghost led Scrooge down the street and into a tiny house. Beside a small Christmas tree, a man was playing with his children -- three boys wearing patched trousers and two girls whose dresses were faded and frayed. The man looked up. He was Scrooge's clerk, Bob Crachit.

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Christmas Stories: 'A Christmas Carol,' Part III

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Here is the third part of "A Christmas Carol":

"Crachit!" Scrooge frowned at the threadbare furnishings. "This is where he lives?"

The ghost nodded. "It's all he can afford. His employer is a bit of a miser. And here's Mrs. Crachit."

A woman carried a small turkey into the dining room on a platter. She had adorned her dress with bright red ribbons, but her dress was mended and worn. She smiled as she carried the platter to the table.

The older children giggled and scrambled to the table.

"Their clothes are rags," said Scrooge, "and their turkey is nothing but bones." He shook his head. "But they're laughing."

Bob Crachit lifted the youngest boy from a chair in the corner and carried him to the table. The boy was pale and thin and carried a crutch.

Scrooge pointed at the boy. "What's wrong with him? Why doesn't he walk?"

"He's very sick," said the ghost. "His name is Tiny Tim, and his parents don't have money for a doctor. If the future remains unchanged, Tiny Tim will die."

"Die?" Scrooge stared at the boy.

Tiny Tim raised his cup of water and smiled at his mother and father. "Merry Christmas!" he said. "God bless us every one."

"Come," said the ghost, and he turned to leave.

"But the boy," said Scrooge. "Tiny Tim. There must be something we can do."

"Perhaps," said the ghost, as he led Scrooge from the house. Outside, the street was gone, and Scrooge found himself watching another family--a mother, father, grandparents, and children, celebrating Christmas in a hut.

Scrooge frowned and said, "They're sitting on a dirt floor, eating from crude bowls, yet they're laughing."

The hut vanished and was replaced by a tiny lighthouse room. The lighthouse keeper and his assistant were sharing Christmas dinner at a rickety wooden table. Outside, waves crashed against the rocks.

"Bless this day," said the lighthouse keeper.

As the two men lifted their mugs in a toast, the lighthouse faded. Scrooge found himself entering another dining room, one Scrooge knew very well.

"My nephew's house!" said Scrooge. "He's having a party."

The party guests were taking turns imitating well-known people -- the queen, the prime minister, a famous actress.

Scrooge's nephew stood up and said, "Guess who I am?" He pulled coins from his pocket, counted them, counted them again, then clutched them tight in his fist and muttered, "Christmas. Humbug."

"Easy," shouted a man. "Ebenezer Scrooge!" The other guests laughed.

"They're making fun of me," said Scrooge.

The ghost nodded. "And they always will. Unless the future changes."

"Change? But how?" cried Scrooge.

BONG! BONG! BONG! Scrooge blinked. He was in his own bed again, and the Ghost of Christmas Present was gone. But as he sat up, another ghost floated into the room. He was draped in black, and a dark hood hid his face.

Scrooge pulled the sheets to his chin. "Who are you?" he asked.

The phantom said nothing.

"First came the Ghost of Christmas Past, then the Ghost of Christmas Present," Scrooge said, as he stared at the phantom. "You must be the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Are you here to show me the future and how it can change?"

The phantom gestured toward the door. Scrooge followed him to the street in front of his countinghouse. The door was locked, and the windows were dark. Three men stood out front, talking and shaking their heads.

"I know those fellows," said Scrooge. "I do business with them. We're quite friendly. These men like me, even if my own nephew does not."

The ghost led Scrooge closer. Scrooge could hear what the men were saying.

"Poor old Scrooge," said one. "They say he's very sick."

"He must be near dead if he's closed up his firm for the day," said another.

"If I know Ebenezer," said the third man, "he'll work during his own funeral."

The men laughed. "It is bad news, though," said the first man. "If Scrooge closes down, I'll have to find another countinghouse."

"Another countinghouse!" sputtered Scrooge. "But I'm not closing down." He turned to the ghost. "Why did you bring me here?"

The phantom turned and drifted down the street. Scrooge followed him and soon found himself in a tiny room with faded walls and worn furnishings.

"But this is Crachit's house," Scrooge said, as he peered around the room. "I've already been here. I've already seen them."

The spirit shook his head and led Scrooge into a bedroom that was hardly bigger than a closet. Mr. Crachit sat next to a small bed and held Tiny Tim's hand. Tears trickled down Mr. Crachit's cheeks.

"What's wrong with them?" said Scrooge. "They were so happy last time I was here, laughing and playing. And where's Mrs. Crachit?"

The bedroom door opened, and Mrs. Crachit came in. Scrooge watched Tiny Tim sleeping in the bed. He was thinner than he had been at Christmas dinner, and his face was drawn and pale. His crutch rested against the bed, and a ball of mistletoe hung above his head.

"Did you see Scrooge?" asked Mrs. Crachit. "Will the old miser help us?"

Bob Crachit shook his head. "Mr. Scrooge says he won't help those who can't help themselves." He took Mrs. Cratchit's hand in his. "But Mr. Scrooge's nephew offered to help us."

Tiny Tim's eyes fluttered open. "Mr. Scrooge's nephew will help? Bless him."

"I pray it's not too late," said Mrs. Crachit. "We can't go on without Tiny Tim."

"Without Tiny Tim?" Scrooge turned toward the ghost. "But that can't be. He's not dying, is he?"

To find out how "A Christmas Carol" ends, go to the following page.

Christmas Stories: 'A Christmas Carol,' Part IV

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Here is the fourth and final part of "A Christmas Carol":

The ghost nodded and turned toward the door. He motioned for Scrooge to follow.

"No!" cried Scrooge. "We can't leave. We must help him."

The ghost drifted from the room. The Crachits' house faded, and Scrooge found himself outside. Clouds filled the sky, and an icy wind whipped through the trees. Scrooge glanced around. A gravel path led through rows of granite stones.

"Why, this is a cemetery," said Scrooge. He stared at the ghost. "Oh, no. Not Tiny Tim. Don't tell me you've come here to show me his grave. It can't be too late."

The ghost pointed at a new grave. A priest stood alone, praying. When the prayer was finished, the priest turned and strode away.

"Is this the grave we came to see?" Scrooge frowned. "But where are the Crachits? And the other mourners? Why did no one come to the funeral?"

The ghost motioned toward the headstone. Scrooge squinted. Engraved on it were two words: EBENEZER SCROOGE.

Scrooge stared. "Mine," he whispered. "The grave is mine." He turned to the ghost. "This is the future?"

The ghost nodded.

Scrooge closed his eyes. "Now I understand. I understand what you have been trying to tell me." He fell to his knees. "You must give me another chance. I will live in the past, the present, and the future."

"I will live in the past, the present, and the future! I will live in the past, the present, and the future!" Scrooge cried again and again.

He opened his eyes. He was in his own room again. The spirit was gone.

"Oh, thank you!" Scrooge scrambled from his bed. "I've been given another chance. And I WILL live in the past, present, and future." Scrooge flung open his window. The aroma of freshly baked bread drifted on the crisp morning air and into his room. Horses clip-clopped over the cobblestone street.

"You! You there!" he shouted to a boy on the street. "What day is this?"

The boy gave Scrooge a puzzled look. "It's Christmas, sir. Christmas morning."

"Good! I haven't missed it. Here, lad." Scrooge rummaged in his dresser drawer and pulled out a bag of money. He tossed a handful of coins to the boy and said, "There's a big, juicy turkey in the butcher shop window at the end of the street. Buy it and deliver it to Bob Crachit's house."

The boy held up the coins. "But, sir. You've given me too much. This is twice what the turkey will cost."

"Keep the rest for your trouble. Hurry now. The Crachits are hungry."

The boy grinned. "Yes, sir!" He scurried away down the street.

"Oh! Young fellow?" Scrooge called after him.

The boy turned. "Yes, sir?"

"Have a merry Christmas," said Scrooge.

"Thank you, sir," said the boy. "And merry Christmas to you, too."

Scrooge dressed in his finest clothes, planted his top hat snugly on his head, and set off down the busy, snowy street toward his nephew's house. Everything looked very familiar to Scrooge. "It's just like before," he said, "when the Ghost of Christmas Present showed me the street on Christmas morning."

He tipped his hat to a group of carolers and waved to a coachman who drove past. A family hurried down the street toward the church, and Scrooge stopped to pat their young son on the head.

"Here, young fellow," Scrooge said. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a penny, and handed it to the boy. "Buy yourself some Christmas candy."

The boy stared at the coin. "Thank you, sir."

"Merry Christmas," said Scrooge.

"Merry Christmas to you," said the boy's mother. "And God bless you."

When Scrooge reached his nephew's house, his nephew was surprised to see him. "Uncle!" he cried. "Did you change your mind about Christmas dinner? Have you come to celebrate the holiday with us?"

"Yes," said Scrooge. "If you will have me."

"Of course we'll have you!" said his nephew.

His nephew took Scrooge's hat and coat and led him into the dining room, where his wife set an extra place at the table.

"We're so glad you could join us," she said. "You've arrived just in time to carve the turkey."

After dinner, Scrooge pushed his chair back from the table. "Thank you," he said. "I've never eaten a more delicious meal. I hate to leave so soon, but I have another stop to make, and I can't be late."

He donned his coat and hat, and hurried down the street to Bob Crachit's house. The Crachits were surprised to see him.

"Oh, Mr. Scrooge!" said Mrs. Crachit. "How can we ever thank you for this wonderful turkey?"

Scrooge smiled. "By enjoying every bite," he said. Scrooge turned to her husband. "Crachit, you've worked long hours without complaining for many years. It's time I gave you a raise, don't you think?"

"Why, yes! Thank you, sir," said Bob Crachit. "You're so generous."

"Nonsense," said Scrooge. "I should have done it years ago. I promise I won't make you wait so long for your next raise."

Scrooge kept his promise, too. He raised Bob Crachit's salary and made sure Tiny Tim got the very best medical treatment. Tiny Tim grew tall and strong, and he told people that Mr. Scrooge had become a second father to him.

Everyone said Ebenezer Scrooge was the only man who knew how to keep Christmas all year long. He draped his office in pine and holly, gave money to the poor, and sang Christmas carols even in July.

And each time he sat down to a meal with his friends and family, he would raise his glass in a toast. "God bless us," he would say. "God bless us every one." -- Adapted by Lisa Harkrader