The Andy Griffith Show’s Christmas episode, “A Christmas Story” is more than a heartless, bitter, wealthy man who has a change of heart. It’s closer to A Christmas Carol than you might think.
A day before Christmas, Andy and Barney start their morning looking through Christmas cards, including from the three Hubacher brothers in state prison. While Andy is making plans to have a party at the his house, but Barney reminds him that they have prisoners to guard. Andy has an epiphany. He thinks his prisoners are “students” who should be released from “school” only to return after Christmas. Andy and Barney release their five prisoners.
Things were looking cheerful before mean, old Ben Weaver drags in Sam Muggins. Ben is making a citizen’s arrest for making moonshine. Not out of moral reasons but economics. It’s shopping season and Ben won’t afford anyone cutting in on his spirits business.
Andy tries to reason with Ben’s holiday spirit. But Ben is unmoved and barks his “Bah!” before threatening Andy to follow the letter of the law or else. Andy concedes and takes Sam, a father of two, into custody and away from this family for Christmas. Ben leaves with satisfaction that he preserved his corner on the liquor market striking a dent into the county’s moonshine problem.
Andy isn’t out of ideas. He arrests the rest of the Muggins’ family including his wife and two children. Showing them to their cell, they join Sam and Andy has himself four more prisoners. Aunt Bee, Opie, and Ellie bring party decorations, food, and eggnog. The Muggins will celebrate Christmas together! To the chagrin of Ben, he questions the festivities and laughter coming from inside the courthouse. Ben storms inside, confused and nearly speechless. He demands answers but discovers Andy deputized Aunt Bee, Opie, and Ellie. Andy is running his courthouse, his authority now unquestioned.
Ben leaves but is unable to ignore the singing and laughter. Peering through the cell bar window he has his first vision of Christmas Past. The warm togetherness is something he remembered long earlier in his life. Like history he cannot change it. Ben leaves quietly but defensive. He can’t resist take something with him. Like a dear memory from his past, he takes a public bench and walks away. Andy and Ellie play the Ghosts of Christmas Past and allow Ben to take the bench and reclaim the happier moments in his life.
Unrepentant, Ben drives himself to a visit to Christmas Present by deliberately parking in front of fire hydrant. Barney hauls him to the courthouse after Ben tears up his citation. It is obvious that Ben is trying to invite himself to the Christmas party but is rejected when Ellie pays his $2 fine. The Ghosts of Christmas Present show Ben he is not welcome when the poorer pay from of their pockets to keep him out.
Ben sneaks back to the ally and has his third and final vision. He sees Christmas Future. A bleak future where he is an excluded and forgotten outcast. The prison bars represent a fate he may cannot escape and a place in his heart out of reach. Ben “falls”, snapping himself out of the vision where the Ghost of Christmas Future visits. The Ghost lectures him where he will end (in jail) if he does not change his ways. Ben is comfortable with his fate but bargains for better terms.
Ben arrives to the courthouse with a suitcase of gifts. The crowd of adults and children are speechless as he hands out presents. They first meet his kind gestures with disbelief before accepting them. In this version of A Christmas Carol, Ben Weaver wakes up from his miserly ways by falling asleep.