It was Christmas Eve in London. The bells in the church were ringing all day long, the candles in the shop windows were lit and you could see people walking quickly through the snow-covered streets. That special feeling which people only seem to have at Christmas was everywhere. Everywhere, that is, except in one place.
There was one office, with the name Scrooge and Marley painted across the window. Two men were in it, working, without smiles on their faces. There was a small fire in the fireplace. Ebenezer Scrooge, the owner, did not like to spend money so the fire stayed small. Scrooge thought it was a waste of money to put more coal on the fire. His clerk, Bob Cratchit, was sitting at his desk writing letters, trying to keep his hands warm by the heat of his candle.
Suddenly, the door opened and the cold and wind from outside filled the room. A young man with red cheeks, curly dark hair and a friendly smile stood in the doorway.
"Merry Christmas, Uncle! Merry Christmas, Bob."
Bob Cratchit looked up for a moment.
"Merry Christmas to you, sir."
Scrooge pointed his crooked finger at Bob Cratchit.
"Get back to work, and keep your 'Merry Christmas' to yourself! As for you, Fred, I have two words for Christmas: Bah! Humbug!"
Fred, Scrooge's nephew, came into the shop and closed the door. He never let the smile leave his face.
"Uncle, why do you call Christmas 'humbug'? It's the one holiday when people open their hearts and truly feel kind towards others. Even you can see that."
Scrooge got up from his desk. He had small, round glasses sitting on the end of his nose. His face was red with anger and he frowned as he spoke.
"I'll tell you what I see. I see people spending more money than they have. I see work stopping and money lost for a day that is just like any other day! If I could, I would cancel Christmas and make everyone work twice as hard."
"But the fact is, Uncle, only butchers and bakers work on Christmas Day. So my wife and I want you to come and have Christmas dinner with us."
"Uncle, please ..."
"I said no and I mean no! Go away and have your Christmas without me!"
"As you wish, Uncle, but nothing you say can make me change how I feel. Merry Christmas to you, Bob, and a happy New Year!"
"And a Merry Christmas to you, sir."
Soon after Scrooge's nephew left, a kind man in a black suit came into the shop asking for money for the poor; and then a young boy arrived wanting to sing Christmas carols. To the kind old man, Scrooge said,
"People who are poor don't have money because they never work. And those who are dying are better off leaving this world. There is no hope in it for them."
For the young boy, Scrooge had no words. He simply slammed the door on him.
"These people will never leave me alone! How can I get any work done?"
At the end of the day, Scrooge locked the office door behind him and walked home alone, with his black hat pulled far down on his head. He heard people laughing and singing Christmas carols in the streets. The only thing he said was,
The night was getting cold. The wind blew the snow up from the ground and made it difficult to see. When Scrooge came to his front door, he stopped to find his key. There was a large old knocker on the door. It looked like a round ball with lines on it. Suddenly, the knocker changed, and it was no longer a ball but the face of a man. It was the face of Jacob Marley, Scrooge's old partner. But Jacob Marley was dead! So whose was this face? And why was he red-eyed and crying like a madman?
Scrooge took a step backwards and hid his face in his hands in terror.
"Ahhh! Go away! Please don't hurt me!"
When Scrooge got no answer, he looked up. The knocker was just a knocker. Jacob Marley's face was no longer there.
Chapter 2: The Ghost of Jacob Marley
Scrooge went quickly into his house, his heart still beating fast. The knocker was only a knocker, after all. So why did it frighten him so much? Scrooge got angry with himself. What did he think it was, a ghost? He had only two things to say to that.
Scrooge lived alone in an old and empty house. Only one room had furniture and that was his bedroom, where he lived. He went to his room, as he did every night and lit the fire. Then he changed his clothes and put a pot of soup on the fire. As he sat, waiting for the soup to warm, he heard a bell, and then another bell. Soon, thousands of bells were ringing all over the house. The bells stopped, and then Scrooge heard something in the cellar. It sounded like chains moving along the floor. Then he heard the sound of someone in pain. He could hear these sounds coming up the stairs. And now, they were right outside his bedroom door!
"No, I won't believe it. There are no such things as ghosts!"
As soon as Scrooge said that, the ghost of Jacob Marley came through his bedroom door with chains around his legs. His old partner was standing in front of him.
"Jacob, what are you doing here? What do you want from me?"
Jacob Marley looked tired. He was wearing a white suit. His hair stood on end, and his eyes were red and sad. He sat down in a chair opposite Scrooge.
"I am here, Ebenezer, to help you. I don't want you to become unhappy, like I am."
"But you made lots of money, Jacob. You were a good businessman. How can you be unhappy?"
"I never gave to the poor. I never helped others. That's why I wear these chains. Now, I must travel the Earth as a ghost and see all of the unhappiness I never cared about when I was alive."
"Do you mean that I will become a ghost like you? Tell me!"
"No, Ebenezer, I can't. But I can tell you this: Tonight, after you go to sleep, three other ghosts will come to visit you. Ebenezer, you still have a chance, so listen to what they say. Watch where they take you. Your future depends on it."
Jacob Marley began to disappear.
"Wait, Jacob, you must tell me more!"
"I'm so tired Ebenezer. I have to go."
But it was too late. Jacob Marley was gone and Scrooge was alone. He listened for sounds in the house, but there were none. There was only the sound of the wind blowing outside. Scrooge felt cold and lonely.
Chapter 3: The Ghost of Christmas Past
Scrooge walked around his room in his dressing gown, talking to himself.
"Jacob Marley said three more ghosts are going to visit me tonight while I'm sleeping. If I stay awake, perhaps they'll never come. What is this all about anyway? What did he mean, you still have a chance'?"
The wind blew harder outside, and the fire in the fireplace started to get low. Scrooge got into bed, which had heavy curtains around it. He closed the curtains to keep out the cold.
"I'll just sit here until the morning. I'm not going to speak to any more ghosts. All this talk about ghosts ... It's a lot of humbug!"
Scrooge's eyes began to close and before he knew it, he was asleep. Scrooge slept very deeply, and when he woke up, he could hear the church bells ringing.
"What's that? Did I fall asleep? Ha! You see? No ghosts!"
Slowly, the curtains around the bed were pulled open, and there, at the bottom of the bed, was the ghost of a man with long white hair, dressed in white. He held a hat in his hand and there was a strange light all around him. Frightened, Scrooge pulled the bedclothes up to his neck.
"Who are you? What do you want from me?"
"I am the ghost of Christmas Past."
"What do you mean 'past'?"
"Your past, Ebenezer Scrooge. I am here to show you how you used to be."
"Why? I know how I was. Tell Marley it's all right. I'll change. I don't need to see the past."
But there was nothing Scrooge could do. An invisible hand pulled back the bedclothes and made him stand up.
"Come with me. We're going outside."
"It's cold out there. I'll freeze."
"Take my hand."
Scrooge did what the ghost said, even though he didn't want to. The ghost's hand was soft and gentle, so Scrooge was no longer afraid when they walked through the wall.
Suddenly, they were not in London anymore. They were in the country. It was daytime. There was snow on the fields. A road over a small bridge, over an even smaller river, led to a town. There was a church right in the middle of the town.
"Do you know this place?"
Scrooge felt a new joy inside him.
"This is where I was born."
They passed several people, all wishing each other a Merry Christmas. Scrooge looked at them with happiness.
"I know all these people!"
"Yes, but don't try to talk to them. They can't see us. Come, let us go to the school. It is not quite empty."
Suddenly, Scrooge began to feel differently. School was a sad place for him. It was an old dark stone building. They went inside. There was a small boy, all alone, reading at a desk. Scrooge tried to turn away.
"Don't show me this."
"But why? Don't you know who that is?"
"Of course I do. But why do you want to show me this? My father left me here. Nobody knows what it's like to be a young boy all alone on Christmas Day."
Scrooge's eyes filled with tears.
"Is something wrong?"
"I was just thinking of another young boy I saw today. He came to my shop, alone, singing Christmas carols. I didn't give him anything. Oh, take me away. I don't want to see anymore."
"Come. There are more things which you must see."
Scrooge did not argue. He did not have the strength. The ghost took him by the hand, and they set off again.