Today is Humbug Day: Here’s How to Celebrate

Campbell Scott as Scrooge in the 2019 Broadway Production of "A Christmas Carol"

By Paul Riegler on 21 December 2019
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“Bah! Humbug!”

Today, December 21, is Humbug Day, a day dedicated to remembering the Ebenezers, the Scrooges, and the curmudgeons who exemplify the lesson Charles Dickens wrote about in his holiday classic, “A Christmas Carol.”

A humbug is, by definition, a person or object who behaves in a deceptive or dishonest manner. The term was first captured by lexicographers in 1751 as student slang and, in 1840, recorded as a “nautical phrase.”

It was of course popularized in Dickens’ novella, uttered by Ebenezer Scrooge to declare Christmas to be a fraud.  “Bah! Humbug!” retorts Mr. Scrooge to anyone who dares wish him a happy Christmas.  Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” at a time when the British were re-evaluating past Christmas traditions, such as carols and the Christmas tree, and he had become indignant at the treatment of the poor, notably street children, and the exploitation of child labor.

“A Christmas Carol” reflects his view of the great social inequality in England and, through Scrooge, of how the rich refuse to give to the poor.  Scrooge is quite well off, but his longtime clerk, Bob Crotchet, who represents the working poor in the story. Cratchit has a son with a disability, Tiny Tim, as well as other children to take care of.

Scrooge has no patience for even the tiniest bit of holiday cheer, including for the carolers who arrive at the door of Scrooge and Marley.  “I need those singing creatures kept away from my door,” he cries at his clerk.

Mr. Scrooge’s depiction of Christmas as humbug is because he sees little value in a world where his one friend is deceased and the love of his life married someone else. After a visit by three spirits, the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, he is transformed into a kinder, gentler soul, although his surname will forever be synonymous with penny-pinching.

The word “humbug” also appears in L. Frank Baum’s book, “The Wizard of Oz,” in which Scarecrow refers to the Wizard as a “humbug,” and Dorothy refers to him as “The Great and Terrible Humbug.”

Meanwhile, the presumed goal of the made-up holiday is to make sure we don’t end up like Scrooge.

As Tiny Tim observed, “God bless Us, Every One!”

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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