Last week I found the Green Man in a place I had seen him so many times before that I’d stopped seeing him at all. It was Thursday, and I was showing my writing classes Scrooge, the musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ timeless classic, A Christmas Carol. We were exploring how the film develops both its theme and its characters by the use of food imagery.
And right in the center of the movie, seated on a ginormous pile of food and lights, is the Holly King, the Green Man–the Ghost of Christmas Present.
So what does that mean? I’ve been mulling that over ever since. I don’t know that I have a definitive answer any more than it’s possible to pin down exactly what the Green Man himself symbolizes. Generally speaking, the Green Man embodies masculine virility. He’s the consort of the Great Mother, and if she symbolizes the ordered, cyclical nature of birth, reproduction, and death, the Green Man symbolizes the crazy, unpredictable, uncontrollable nature of unfiltered masculine sexuality. The Green Man is the power of seedlings that crack ice, and roots that shatter sidewalks. He is the stag who fights to the death for the right to pass his life on to the next generation. He is the ivy that crumbles brick, the first wild love. He’s the rash abundance of a million sperm released to fertilize a single egg. He’s about knowing what you want, and going all in to get it. He’s the billions of salmon eggs for the millions who survive the trip to the sea and back up to the home creek to spawn.
So what’s he doing sitting on top of a pile of food, calling Scrooge names and getting him drunk?
I think he’s making a point about the huge role that undeserved generosity–not charity–should play in our dealings with each other. Scrooge’s true transformation begins not with the horror of Marley’s visit, or the sentimental visit to his past, but at the second the Green Man hands him the goblet filled with the Milk of Human Kindness and urges him to drink up not just once, but over and over again. Scrooge is transformed by an act of undeserved generosity, by being given kindness not just once, but over and over again.
And he responds by choosing not to hoard it to himself, but to shower it on the people in his life–wildly, improvidently, crazily. Scrooge becomes a beloved part of his community. And everyone is better for it–indeed, in the case of Tiny Tim, a life is saved.
Things are hard for a lot of us right now, and maybe that’s why the sort of generosity the Green Man embodies is so necessary, so attractive, and disturbing. In hard times it’s especially important to give not just what one can, but more than one can–wildly, improvidently, echoing the abundance of Nature.