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December 21, 2015

Bowdlerising  A Christmas Carol

At 10 past eight on Saturday morning I was listening—as is my customto It Says in the Papers on RTÉ Radio One. Presenter John S. Doyle is one of the better contributors to this programme. He avoids misplaced attempts at humour and sometimes manages to include what I would call items of a counter-cultural” drift: meaning ones of which the Montrose/Irish Times axis would not approve.

I sat up when John S. mentioned a critique of a Christmas television advertisement for Dunne’s stores. Here’s how that ad. is worded:

He walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted the children on their heads, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure.  He had never dreamed that any walkthat anythingcould give him so much happiness.

I must have seen that ad. a dozen times, but I had not appreciated that the words are from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The he is the reformed miser Ebenezer Scrooge. In the Dunnes Stores ad. it is a young father on his way home at Christmas time. However, the original passage contains a few words omitted by the Dunnes ad. I have put them in bold type here:

[Scrooge] went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted the children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows; and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk — that anything — could give him so much happiness.

Unfortunately, try as I may, I can’t find the original article quoted by John S. Doyle, so I don’t know who wrote it, and for what publication. But Mr. Doyle thought it worthy of note, and so do I.

You wonder why? Well, it’s yet another indication of just how post-Catholic pluralist Ireland has become in the past few decades. An ad. like this one would have been very carefully planned, and many people would have had a hand in it. Someone at one of the planning conferences called before the ad. took its final shape would have said it was incongruous, in 21st-century Ireland, for a young father to be going to church. And beggars? Yes, we still have have plenty of those, but it’s not helpful for business to draw people’s attention to the fact.

That’s obviously how the passage from Dickens came to be bowdlerised. But it’s odd, when you come to think of it, that patted the children on the head escaped the blue pencil. Did no one one think this might be interpreted as a preliminary to paedophilia?

There was quite a strange sequel to this. The Papers slot is repeated after the 9am news, and in my day at least was not often changed from the Saturday 8am edition. But I listened again, because I had a suspicion that someone, possibly Dunnes themselves, might have phoned in to complain that the item as reported by John S. Doyle was damaging to their image. Sure enough, the Christmas Carol item had been deleted.

Dunnes in fact have quite a good reputation when it comes to religion. Their store in Cornelscourt, just up the road from me, has a chapel where there are two Masses a day. If you are lucky, you’ll get a half-decent Novus Ordo; if not, it’ll be some chasuble-less chancer of a celebrant who misquotes Sacred Scripture at the Consecration.


  1. The Irish Independent newspaper at http://www.independent.ie/entertainment/books/what-the-dickens-the-secret-story-behind-the-dunnes-christmas-tv-ad-30862451.html says: “What many people may not have spotted, however, is that the entire script for the ad comes from a paragraph in A Christmas Carol.”

    Not quite entire!

  2. Nothing more suits post-Catholic Ireland that Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, perhaps the most popular children’s story for the “Winter Festival” in modern America and eminently suitable for Ireland, as it plays catch-up with its peers. In this story, Christmas is utterly Christ-less, in the words of a recent author, it “suffers from a type of spiritual silence”, much more insidious than a Richard Dawkins onslaught against religious belief.
    From one angle, the story is a satire of the giving-and-getting that Christmas has become in the western world. When the Grinch steals the star, the presents and the accompanying paraphernalia, he thinks that he has destroyed Christmas. To his astonishment on Christmas morning he hears the familiar sound of music and song from the families of Whoville. “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store”, he thinks. “Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!” The Grinch is converted, he abandons his hatred, and becomes part of the celebration of the festival.
    Defenders of Zeuss will argue that he targeted the consumerism and materialism that dominates our culture, that like Charles Dickens’ Scrooge it includes a conversion, and so is a moral story. Yet, like the Alive O catechetics programme for primary schools in Ireland, its ambiguous “little bit more” is only too acceptable to the secular mind, offering fuzzy goodwill and freedom from religion.

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