Sunday, January 11, 2009


"A Southern Christmas Carol" takes Charles Dickens' immortal story from the streets of London in the 1840's to rural southwest Georgia in 1933 during the Great Depression.

This was a time when the majority of Americans were facing hard times; when the US economy was in a downward spiral--as situation all too similiar to our current situation. The classic images (above and below) illustrate just how desperate the lives of so many American had become.

Nevertheless as most Americans struggled just to make ends meet, they continued to embrace Christmas. As pictured below, Depression era department stores were decorated for the holiday just as they are today--a tradition that is celebrated in one song from "A Southern Christmas Carol" entitled "It's All Because of Santa Claus." In fact, it was during the Depression that Santa Claus truly became the central symbol of Christmas for Americans--regardless of their religious affiliations.
While large department stores could be found in large cities and towns across the United States, in small Southenr rural communities (the setting of "A Southern Christmas Carol') the local stores were more likely to resemble the one pictured below. In much of the rural South, the economy continued to be founded upon cotton. The local cotton gin owner was often times the wealthiest man in the county. In "A Southern Christmas Carol" the character of Old Man Scrooge is the owner of a southwest Georgia cotton gin--as pictured below.

Christmas celebrations during the Depression were decidely smaller affairs than in our day. Those children whose families could afford to "have Santa visit" often received but one or two small gifts--and often those gifts uncluded something practical such as a pair of new socks. In the rural South Christmas stocking were usually stuffed not with candy but with fruits from the local market--which might sometimes include a more exotic fruit such as an orange. Christmas celebrations in the home were simple with larger celebrations being held at local churches or community gathering places.
Despite the outward cheer of these celebrations, the nation was still one that was deeply divided politically. Roosevelt was president but not all Americans agreed with all aspects of the New Deal philosophy and that was reflected in the popular media--often such things as the December 1933 "Little Orphan Annie" cartoon below:
The attitude presented above is one that Old Man Scrooge embraces in "A Southern Christmas Carol." In the only line in the show that is the least bit overtly poilitical, Scrooge complains to a couple of missionaries who are collecting for a charity about President Roosevelt raising his taxes in order to help "the so-called poor."

The nation was not only divided politically. Not only in the South (with its vicious Jim Crow laws) but across the country, racism against black Americans was so widely accepted that Christmas cards such as the one blow were marketed, sold and exchanged--and white Americans thought nothing about it.

It is against this backdrop of a nation struggling economically, divided politically and racially that "A Southern Christmas Carol" is set. Politics and race are never mentioned or addressed directly in the show (the focus remains the redemption of the human soul), but throughout the show the characters live and breath in time when the nation was deeply divided.

The message of "A Southern Christmas Carol"--as in Dickens' original story--is one that, coincidentally, seems to be on the lips on most American at this very moment: Change is possible.

(Above: Jimmy Bishop as the Ghost of Christmas Present and Peter Lewis as Old Man Scrooge look upon Allison Spragin-as Scrooge's housekeeper--and Rubin Singleton--as her polio-crippled son in the original 2003 production of "A Southern Christmas Carol.")

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