Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Impact of Dicken's "A Christmas Carol"

Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol was first offered for sale on December 19, 1843 and it has had a great impact on the celebration of Christmas (good and bad), as this blog notes:

All 6,000 copies of the first edition were sold in only four days! The book became instantly popular, though the high cost of printing, including the fine illustrations, limited Dickens’s profits. Before long, however, vast numbers of people in England and America knew the story, not only from reading the book, but also from dramatic presentations and many public readings by Dickens himself.

Because our own celebrations of Christmas have been so strongly influenced by Dickens, we can easily overlook his special contributions to our traditions, such as:
• Christmas as a major holiday. At the time of Dickens, it was relatively ignored by most people.
• Christmas as a one (or two) day celebration rather than the traditional twelve.
• Christmas as an occasion for family and close friends to gather for luscious food, singing, dancing, and games. Before A Christmas Carol, turkey was an uncommon on Christmas tables. After the book, it became the meat of choice for this holiday.
• Christmas as a time for being generous to the poor.

Dickens did not so much invent these traditions as he resurrected them and popularized them. Much of what we assume to be true of Christmas celebrations today derives from the vision of Dickens, especially as portrayed in A Christmas Carol.

So close was the connection between Charles Dickens and Christmas that, when he died in 1870, a young woman who heard of it was aghast. “Dickens dead?” she exclaimed. “Then will Father Christmas die too?” Well, as it turns out, Father Christmas didn’t die along with his greatest promoter, Charles Dickens. The influence of this man, and most of all his masterful novella, A Christmas Carol guaranteed that Christmas would be kept for generations upon generations.

When I say good and bad, I'm referencing that one bad point: "Christmas as a one (or two) day celebration rather than the traditional twelve"! So that's why we see Christmas trees on the curb December 26!

Les Standiford tells the story of how Dickens' novella became such an influence in The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits:

Acclaimed popular historian Les Standiford whisks us back to Victorian England, where we find out how a struggling Charles Dickens came to write the small book that would transform a somber, faded holiday into the celebration of charity and good cheer we know today.

Just before Christmas in 1843, a debt-ridden and dispirited Charles Dickens wrote a small book he hoped would keep his creditors at bay. His publisher turned it down, so Dickens used what little money he had to put out A Christmas Carol himself. He worried it might be the end of his career as a novelist.

The book immediately caused a sensation. And it breathed new life into a holiday that had fallen into disfavor, undermined by lingering Puritanism and the cold modernity of the Industrial Revolution. It was a harsh and dreary age, in desperate need of spiritual renewal, ready to embrace a book that ended with blessings for one and all.

With warmth, wit, and an infusion of Christmas cheer, Les Standiford whisks us back to Victorian England, its most beloved storyteller, and the birth of the Christmas we know best. The Man Who Invented Christmas is a rich and satisfying read for Scrooges and sentimentalists alike.

I think that I have seen all the sound era movie versions of A Christmas Carol, including the updated, Americanized versions. I even like the musical version (Scrooge!) with that fun scene, "Thank You Very Much" when Scrooge doesn't realize everyone is happy just because he's dead!

God Bless Us, Every One!

1 comment:

  1. Crusading MedievalistDecember 20, 2012 at 12:41 PM

    "A Christmas Carol" is my favorite Christmas story of all time :). I didn't know the story behind it though . . . Very interesting. My family always tries to read it together around Christmas time. Hopefully we'll find time to read it again this year.

    We need another Dickens--another writer, here in the 21st century, to breathe new life into the secular mishmash of harried advertisement and consumerism that Christmas has become. Or maybe we just need a Dickens revival!