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Dickens’ “reinvention” of Christmas
“God bless us, every one.”
Although immortalized as a simple blessing from the sweet, yet sickly Tiny Tim, these famous words carried a much heavier weight when first penned by Dickens about 200 years ago. Although A Christmas Carol is an easy-to-read novella showcased by everyone from Broadway to the Muppets, it was originally written in protest to the impoverishment of the working class.
In 1843, when Dickens first published A Christmas Carol, Christmas traditions—and society as a whole—had endured some pretty harsh blows. In the mid-seventeenth century, England’s Puritan-controlled government tried to abolish Christmas festivities all together. In the late eighteenth century, the Industrial Revolution widened London’s wealth disparity, trading in festivities for factory lines. The fresh holly and yuletide joy we associate with Victorian England Christmases was a distant fantasy. Even Dickens, at just 12 years old, was forced to work in the factories after his father was imprisoned in the debtor’s jail.
It was from this cultural despair that A Christmas Carol was born. After several weeks of nightly walks through London’s poor neighborhoods, Dickens decided on the plot for his next piece: he would tell the story of a wealthy businessman transformed by the Christmas spirit—a story that would both inspire the working class and convict the upper class.
Published just six weeks later, A Christmas Carol was an instant success. It spoke to the millions of ailing and impoverished people who’d been ignored by society’s Scrooges. It spoke to the orphaned Tiny Tims forced into factory work and the exhausted Cratchits scrambling to support their families. Dickens’ work was so successful, it’s credited with reviving family-oriented Christmas traditions and charitable giving throughout nineteenth-century England.
According to British author William Makepeace Thackeray, A Christmas Carol “occasioned immense hospitality throughout England; was the means of lighting up hundreds of kind fires at Christmas time; caused a wonderful outpouring of Christmas good feeling; of Christmas punch-brewing; an awful slaughter of Christmas turkeys; and roasting and basting of Christmas beef.”
Part social criticism, part whimsical ghost story, A Christmas Carol ushered in a new age of Christmas joy that continues to inspire Christmas curmudgeons the world over.
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