The Ebenezer Syndrome
The Ebenezer Syndrome?
The public was first introduced to Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge in late December of 1843 when Charles Dickens published his celebrated novella, A Christmas Carol in London. The publication was immediately marked as an absolute success and received critical acclaim. One of the main concepts that readers and, later on, viewers of different versions and adaptations of the novella focused on was Ebenezer Scrooge’s character; his sudden transition from being a misanthropic, cynical, pessimistic, and materialistic man to a kind-hearted, social, generous person allowed for more social and filmic interest.
Since 1901, filmmakers have been obsessed with capturing Scrooge’s gloomy character on screen, and there have been numerous versions:
What has been the fascination with Ebenezer Scrooge’s character? His personality traits can be explained in several ways:
Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic approach would suggest projection; Scrooge was projecting his own disappointment, misery, and dejection on others, purposely reminding all that Christmas was not going to be a wonderful event for them. They had more important things that were supposed to distress themselves about: finance. The psychoanalytic approach would also bring forth the idea of sadism through Scrooge’s sadistic behaviors such as his extreme pessimism, hostility, aggressiveness towards others, and antisocialism.
Freud would conclude that Scrooge’s overnight transformation was based on his unconscious motives becoming conscious when he faced his own mortality. His desire for distress and destruction of happiness guided him towards encountering three ghosts. The third one, the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, made Scrooge face the reality and the possibility of death. Running his fingers through the letters of his own name on his future tombstone transformed him and made everything as conscious as it could ever be. Remembering his own mortality reminded Scrooge to appreciate what he had. After all, a repeated resolution used in Christmas films is the idea of establishing a loving social connection that leads to a sense of belonging. Abraham Maslow’s humanistic approach would suggest that Ebenezer Scrooge lacked in the areas of love and belonging, and his sudden awakening resulted in his fulfillment of a need for social connection and, therefore, a sense of belongingness.
In 2002, Kasser and Sheldon published the result of their study in the Journal of Happiness Studies that features scientific articles regarding psychological wellbeing. Their article, “What Makes for a Merry Christmas,” showed the most common activities that individuals take part in during Christmas season. Activities such as participating in religious activities, maintaining tradition, purchasing gifts, receiving gifts, helping the less fortunate, enjoying the sensual aspect of the holiday, and enjoying food were mutually experienced among the majority of the study participants.
Kasser and Sheldon concluded that the materialistic aspects of Christmas have a negative impact on one’s psychological wellbeing, but participating in activities that established social connectivity with others resulted in personal satisfaction and contentment due to experiencing belongingness and social connection. Do you still wonder why you keep going back to classic Christmas movies every single year to experience that comforting satisfaction at the end that you tend to crave?
The result of Kasser and Sheldon’s research lead to the importance of what we call “The Ebenezer Syndrome.” Have you ever wondered about the meaning of Ebenezer?
In the biblical book of 1 Samuel, the Israelites were distressed as the Philistines were approaching to attack them. The prophet, Samuel, was crying out to God for help, and the Israelites asked him to not stop his plea. On that day, God saved the Israelites from the Philistines by a loud thunder. Then, “Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’” (1 Samuel 7:12)
The Ebenezer stone is known as “the stone of help.” It is a symbolic characteristic of one who offers bountiful help to others. Knowing the meaning behind Scrooge’s name diminishes the element of mystery from Dickens’ story, but it also predicts that a positive character transformation is to be expected.