By JOE PLASKO

jplasko@tnonline.com [1]

I recently bought a copy of the 1951 film version of "A Christmas Carol" on DVD.

I was thrilled that this British production, which starred Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge, was finally available on disc. I have an old VHS tape of it that has begun to wear out after repeated viewings through the years.

There have been many adaptations of Charles Dickens' 1843 holiday classic, on the radio, stage and screen. Many actors have portrayed the miserly Scrooge, including Reginal Owen, Lionel and John Barrymore, Basil Rathbone, Albert Finney, George C. Scott, Patrick Stewart and Jim Carrey.

(Carrey has also appeared as that other Yuletide curmudgeon, the Grinch. Does that make him a Scrinch? A Grooge, maybe?)

There have been faithful renditions, cartoon versions (such as Mr. Magoo), novelty knock-offs (Bill Murray's "Scrooged", the Muppets) and female Scrooges (Susan Lucci, Vanessa Williams and Tori Spelling).

There is even a production of "A Christmas Carol" at the Strawberry Playhouse in Tuscarora that is running through this weekend.

For me, the 1951 version with Sim as Scrooge is my favorite, and it's just not Christmas without watching it, as well as another holiday chestnut, "It's a Wonderful Life."

One reason the Sim version stands out is because it is in black and white, which makes it even scarier. I like to watch it late at night, to parallel Scrooge's experience with the ghosts. (The DVD has a bonus colorized version, but I'll pass on that, thank you. To me, that is like colorizing "Citizen Kane" or "Casablanca".)

It is Sim himself that makes this the one to watch. Watching him go through the gamut of emotions is fun, particularly in his sheer joy at his transformation.

That is one reason Dickens' tale has endured. Everyone can relate to Scrooge's experience. Who hasn't felt at some point that with all the pressures that we can face during the holidays that the whole thing is a "humbug"?

Scrooge, however, had been consumed by his cold hearted ways. It has been suggested that, at that stage, he is the very embodiment of winter.

The visits from the ghosts are what draw us into the story. I believe we are all haunted by our own versions of these spirits, perhaps not as dramatically as Ebenezer, but they are there, still the same.

My Christmas Pasts do not have the skeletons in the closet that Scrooge did. I remember many happy holiday times while growing up in Tamaqua. My sister has a birthday five days before Christmas. For me, celebrating with family and friends has always been at the heart of the season.

I am not frightened of the specter of Christmas Yet To Come, as Scrooge was, but all of us wonder what the future has in store for us.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is the one that confronts us now.

For me, this will be my first Christmas without my father, who passed away in February. Anyone who has lost a loved one knows the holidays will never be quite the same.

However, we must not close our hearts to those around us, especially to the Bob Cratchits who are in need. It is when Scrooge finally realized this that his transformation was complete.

Those who attended Tamaqua's annual tree lighting ceremony heard Major Sharon Whispell of The Salvation Army echo that theme, reminding us that Christmas is the time to help those in need.

There are many ways to help. Drop money in that red kettle. Visit the lonely. Donate to a food or clothing drive. Check on an elderly neighbor. Buy a gift for that Angel Tree. Adopt a pet. Send a card or care package to a soldier serving overseas. Call a relative you haven spoken to in some time. Volunteer your time in the community.

Open your heart this Christmas, and most of all, don't forget the reason for the season.