The Tradition of the Christmas Carol

I grew up surrounded by literature. My dad is an English professor with a specialty in Early American Literature, it’s just always been a huge part of my life, even to the point that Edgar Allan Poe was my bedtime stories.

My favorite way that my dad’s profession bled into our home life, though, was always his colleagues and the talks that he would let me come with him to see. I love to hear people talk about what they are passionate about and do what they love, so I tagged along to as many presentations as I could.

The best event my dad ever brought me to was Dr. Marc Napolitano’s performance of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Dr. Napolitano was relatively new to the department that year – I think it was 2013 – and I hadn’t met him before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew the story of A Christmas Carol, everyone knows the story. I’d never read it, I was still in middle shool, but I was familiar with the plot. I’d seen renditions of it through disney animations and such. Worst case scenario, what I was walking into was some professor standing in front of a crowd and droning on about the significance of the story or something else that wouldn’t hold my attention.

It absolutely was not that.

For two hours, I sat next to my dad, absolutely riveted by Dr. Napolitano as he stood in front of a full room of students and other professors and gave a one man performance of A Christmas Carol, with voices and expressions and a passion that I’d never seen before. He was the only person up there, but each character was unique and all it took was a shift of his shoulders and a different lilt to his words for me to know that someone different was speaking. He was phenomenal. This was A Christmas Carol as it was supposed to be.

Looking back on it now, Dr. Naoplitano’s performance was a perfect example of how little it takes for an old work to take on new life. He was so passionate about this text that he was willing to memorize it in its entirety and stand in front of a crowd to bare his heart as he performed it so that he could share it with others the way he saw it, which was no small feat especially since Dr. Napolitano was a small, quiet man with a gentle smile and an even gentler voice. None of his shyness was present during his performance, his voice was booming. Even now I can hear him.

“Are there no prisons?! Are there no workhouses?!”

The fluidity of A Christmas Carol comes to my mind as we start to tackle it in class. After seeing that performance, I’ll be honest, no other adaptation of Dickens’ work has been good enough for me. Somehow, Dr. Napolitano had taken this thing that so many people knew by heart and made it his own. He made it new and he made it riveting, and I know all too well how hard it is to make a room full of cadets at USMA pay attention for that long.

After that first performance and until three years later when Dr. Napolitano left the academy, my family made it a tradition to go see his performance. In 2015, he left USMA and accepted a job offer at USAFA, and my childhood best friend who is a current cadet there assures me he’s still continuing his tradition of sharing Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with anyone willing to listen.

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