‘A Christmas Carol’ offered a wonderful evening

Until Sunday night, I had never heard the words of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. Written in 1843, the tale has become a classic.
My family used to have various traditions leading up to Christmas: the putting up of the outdoor lights, the raising of the Christmas tree, gathering in the kitchen as a family to make Christmas cookies and cakes, and the playing of Christmas music in the house during the weeks leading up to Dec. 25.
Our family always seemed to find time to do those special things together at Christmas. With the boys now gone, some of the traditions have fallen away.
We would have movie nights and play the movie of “Miracle on 42nd Street.” We watched Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and several other traditional Christmas movies.
As a family, we watched the Alistair Sim classic on television several times. In black and white, it is a somber, sober look at the failings of Scrooge.
I’m not sure my sons really enjoyed the classic. Yet the end is bright and hopeful. The movie continues to be trotted out Christmas after Christmas as a special. It fills the traditions of Christmas movies.
Through the course of television, many variations of them have been played. Homer Simpson, through channel surfing, met the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.
Alex Keaton, played by Michael J. Fox on “Family Ties,” met the ghost of Christmas past, his youngest sister, and then the ghost of Christmas future played by his younger sister who shows him how the family, except for him, has fallen on hard times.
He wakes and then rushes out to buy presents.
I had never stopped to read the carol as was presented by Dickens. Yet Sunday evening, I sat spellbound listening intently on the hard pews of Knox United Church while five readers presented a shortened version.
Focusing on every word, the story seemed much more real than the movie or the any of the television imitations.
The dimmed lights of the church created a wonderful setting. The Knox choir sang prior to each chapter of the story while the Rainy Lake Ringers provided a selection of traditional Christmas carols to beginning the evening and again at intermission.
Listening to each reader, I was moved by the care and inflections of their voices in telling the story. Each brought something unique to the telling and, through the variations of their voices, one was granted the vision of their own imagination painting the scenes of the various ghosts and settings.
Hurrying through the days leading to Christmas, it felt really relaxing to sit there and listen as Val Martindale, Mark Kowalchuk, Ruth Caldwell, Brian Hagarty, and Terry MacLeod (from CBC Winnipeg) read the five chapters of the story.
It was a wonderful evening of entertainment culminating in everyone singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
The Voyageur Lions Club and CBC Radio are to be commended for bringing the reading to Fort Frances for a second year. Let’s hope it becomes a permanent tradition in our community.

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