History of A Christmas Carol

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Reinventing Christmas

None of Dickens’ other works is more widely recognized or celebrated within the English-speaking world. Some scholars have even claimed that in publishing A Christmas Carol, Dickens single-handedly invented the modern form of the Christmas holiday in England and the United States. The movie “The Man Who Invented Christmas” argues that very point.

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A Traditional Christmas

Many of our American conceptions of what a “traditional” Christmas is comes from this time in Victorian history. Queen Victoria of England had married less than three years before the publication of this book. Her German husband, Prince Albert, brought some of his native customs to England (including the Christmas tree), beginning some of the traditions of Victorian Christmas. Dickens’ book popularized that style of celebrating Christmas in England and around the world at that time.

Ghost Stories

The telling of melodramatic ghost stories, especially around Christmas time, was a popular practice during the Victorian period. Dickens’ fascination with ghost stories, mesmerism, and spiritualism led him to include ghostly apparitions in his other works as well. As a teenager, a particular favorite of Dickens was the penny weekly magazine The Terrific Register, which covered topics of murder and ghosts. Reading it, he said he would “make myself unspeakably miserable, and frighten my very wits out of my head.” The original title of this novella was “A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas.”

Decline of Christmas

In the mid-seventeenth century, the Cromwellian Revolt in England had abolished the monarchy as well as the celebration of Christmas. Though the monarchy was subsequently “restored,” the traditions of the winter holiday never quite recovered. But the earlier religious prohibition was not the only cause of the decline of Christmas. Even by the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution, especially in the north of England, was changing the communities that still tenuously kept the customs of their ancestors.

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Fezziwig’s Ball

Christmas Revival

Dickens was one of the first to show his readers a new way of celebrating the old holiday in their modern lives. His Christmas celebrations of the Carol adapted the twelve-day manorial (Yule) feast to a one-day party any family could hold in their own urban home. Instead of gathering together an entire village, Dickens showed his readers the celebration of Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, with his immediate family and close friends, and also the Cratchit’s “nuclear family”: perfectly happy alone, without the presence of friends or wider family. He showed the urban, industrial English that they could still celebrate Christmas, even though the old manorial twelve-day celebrations were out of their reach. Dickens’ version of the holiday evoked the childhood memories of people who had moved to the cities as adults. *

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A Christmas Carol poster

Public Performances

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Dickens public reading

Silicon Valley Tech Exec: Cloud, Data Storage, Automation. Author of fascinating articles about history, tech trends, andpop culture. Blog: http://billpetro.com

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