Bah! Humbug! Whether you’ve read the story, witnessed the play, or seen some version of the movie, Ebenezer Scrooge is undoubtedly a part of your world. Never has Christmas seen a grumpier, or more hateful man (except perhaps Mr. Potter) than Scrooge. Written in 1843 by British author Charles Dickens the tale is about lost love, greed, bitterness and missed opportunity. So why on earth has it come to be one of the world’s most beloved Christmas stories? I’ll get to that, but first, a bit of history on Dickens and his love for taverns.
Raised in poverty in London’s Camden Town, Dickens was forced to work and forgo his education and childhood. His father’s outstanding debts sent the whole family to prison, except for Charles who, at age 12, provided the only opportunity for income. Forever would Charles feel abandoned and betrayed by the adults that were supposed to have cared for him. Later in life, the soon-to-be world-renowned author would write stories with this sentiment as a recurring theme. But rooted within each tale would be his strong belief that people, at their core, are good and want to be happy. Published in 1843, A Christmas Carol is no exception.
When it’s all said and done, Scrooge is forever changed, Tiny Tim survives and life is good. But embedded amongst this sad, dark and painful story is a joyous scene involving the boisterous Fezziwigs. Mr. Fezziwig, Scrooge’s mentor, likes to party. He stops all work, encourages his staff to prep for festivities, and his official welcome urges a good ol’ fashioned 19th Century British hoedown. Mrs. Fezziwig is the perfect hostess and, together, they set a tone of love, comfort and joy. “Tonight we shall dance..and more dancing, and plenty of beer, and roast, and dancing, and beer. [Cheers!] And more dancing [Clink!]. And what else? More dancing!” Cue the fiddles, horns, and accordions. From youngest child to eldest individual, the scene exudes holiday celebration, merry making and happiness for all.
Played by Michael Aaron Lindner and Kim Schultz, both actors are a part of this year’s production of a Goodman Theatre’s A Christmas Carol. My recent chat with them revealed their affection for the joyous characters they get to portray. So happy are the Fezziwigs that Lindner and Schultz completely give themselves over to their roles and seemingly forget about the audience once the dancing begins. Both actors (pictured below) engage so well because, like everyone else, they love the story.
“It’s never too late to make changes and make a difference” says Schultz. Lindner concurs, “the Fezziwigs serve a purpose to buoy the audience and give them a little treat before the darker elements come...we can all take a breath and reflect”. The scene is a great example of friendship, camaraderie, family and joy. “ It’s a joy to be a part of this scene...go on stage and laugh and dance and carouse - it’s just fun.”
The Fezziwig scene - the food, dancing, drinking, and people - defines Christmas. That scene IS Christmas. And it also parallels why the world loves taverns. There is something almost magical about coming together with friends and family and sharing in food and beverage. Saloons have historically provided the right environment for such occasions. Even the name, pub, short for public house, defines its purpose. And while the alcohol helps, it’s not about the beer, wine or liquor. It’s about a safe place to seal a business deal, engage in thoughtful conversation, foster friendships, or as is the case with the Fezziwigs, just make merry.
Each year, Fezziwig has his party, and each year Fezziwig nearly goes out of business because of it. As a miserly, older Scrooge looks on, he smiles at the glimpse of what once was. His heart and soul are ever-present enjoying Every. Single. Moment. Each year, for the past thirty-six years, the Goodman Theatre shares this joyous story with generations of Chicagoans. That production IS Christmas in Chicago. And each year, we as humans will make every effort to find some holiday cheer in our local tavern because that IS who we are at Christmas.
Catch A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre now through December 28th. www.goodmantheatre.org