During the Victorian Age, many Christmas traditions that we take for granted were introduced in England and others were revived. In the mid 18th Century, Prince Albert helped bring the German tradition of Christmas trees to the Royal Palace and the first ever Christmas cards were being sold in London.
Even caroling, previously called wassailing, was brought back from the pre-Cromwell times. Among all this revelry and celebration of old customs, one man still saw social injustice and wanted to appeal to all classes on behalf of the poor, the starving, the illiterate and the lame.
Charles Dickens decided to write a novella, and started writing in October of 1843. On 19 December, 1843, A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas was published.
It was heralded by the critics and the first printing of 6000 copies was sold out by Christmas. It was almost immediately called a “national benefit” in literary circles and one critic, known to dislike Dickens and his work, actually praised A Christmas Carol and said it was “[...] finely felt, and calculated to work much social good”. Dickens himself wrote about how he received “by every post, all manner of strangers writing all manner of letters about their homes and hearths, and how the Carol is read aloud there, and kept on a very little shelf by itself”.
Dickens often reworked the text of A Christmas Carol in the yearly printings thereafter. He wrote other Christmas stories with similar themes that are now often printed along with the novella. Starting in 1853 Dickens chose to celebrate the original printing of his most famous story by reading an abbreviated version aloud in public settings, a practice which he continued until his death in 1870.
It is said that in 1867 Dickens read A Christmas Carol at a public reading in Chicago. One of the audience members, Mr. Fairbanks, owned a scale manufacturing plant. Mr. Fairbanks was so affected by the story that he decided to “break the custom we have hitherto observed of opening the works on Christmas day.” Not only did he close the factory, but he gave Christmas turkeys to all of his employees.
A Christmas Carol is still rewritten and performed onstage today in the 21st Century. The name ‘Scrooge’ and expression ‘bah, humbug’ are part of everyday holiday language. ‘Merry Christmas’, said with such frequency today, was also first popularized by Dickens’ story. If the Victorians started some new celebrations of Christmas with cards and a more genteel caroling, then historians agree Dickens invigorated the Holiday as a celebration of generosity and good will.
There are many places online to see the full text of A Christmas Carol, below are three:
For a free ebook versions (including Kindle):
To listen online or download an audiobook for free:
If you prefer to hold a book in your hands, as I do, Amazon carries a beautiful reprint published by Forgotten Classics, which uses technology to retain the original printing. I recommend this over other reprints, which are sometimes merely scans of the difficult to read fading pages.
Quoted text from Dickens’ Christmas Books, Christmas Stories, and Other Short Fiction, by Ruth F Glancy.
Cie McCullough Buschle | Cie McCullough Buschle lives with her dog Einstein and a cat named Burton Guster Took. She enjoys researching history through holidays, toys, and everyday objects. Cie is a sculptor and clay hand builder and spends her time traveling back in time to the Middle Ages as part of the Society for Creative Anachronism.