The modern celebration of Christmas in America and England is very family centric. From the exchanging of gifts to sitting around the hearth to enjoying a meal, the cozy notion of a Rockwellian holiday that focuses around the family seems like a natural tradition that has always been celebrated in modern times.
In reality, these traditions were largely fabricated by English author Charles Dickens in his timeless novel a A Christmas Carol, which was published on this day in 1843.
The truth is, the Christmas celebration was dormant in England for centuries. Thanks to several popular guides written on celebrating the holiday, a revival of Christmas traditions was only starting to catch on during the Victorian Era. In fact, Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, brought the concept of the Christmas tree from his native Germany and introduced exchanging greeting cards, singing carols and gift giving. However, these ideas had not caught on with the poor middle class during the Industrial Revolution.
Dickens, a product of the brutal child labor force, based his ghostly tale on his sympathy of children and middle class families, in addition to stories by Washington Irving that highlighted forgotten Christmas traditions. He weaves non-existent traditions like the Christmas Eve parties, the gathering of family and friends, a Christmas feast and giving gifts to children as though these scenes were common in English households. Through A Christmas Carol, Dickens essentially introduced an affordable, attainable secular celebration of Christmas to middle class families.
In just six weeks, Dickens wrote this story about selfish miser Ebenezer Scrooge, his relationship with employee Bob Cratchit and his redemption through the guidance of spirits. The book was a huge success and sold out by Christmas Eve 1843. It was also popular in America, thus spreading that familial concept of Christmas to families across the pond.
A Christmas Carol remains popular, has never been out of print, and has been adapted to the theater, the big screen, television specials and even animated. It is believed that the story inspired themes for other Christmas classics, most notably It’s a Wonderful Life and How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The story has been interpreted by everyone from Disney characters (Mickey’s Christmas Carol) to comedian Bill Murray (Scrooged) to the Muppets (The Muppet Christmas Carol).
Even the story’s title was part of Dickens’ effort to revive Christmas through the singing of carols, which also was not common at the time. Most importantly, Dickens’ story inspired a wave of charitable giving in both England and America that resonates to this day.
So, as you gather with loved ones this Christmas to exchange gifts and share a meal, raise a glass and give a toast Charles Dickens for not only giving us one of the greatest stories ever told but also for reminding us of the importance of family and giving to those less fortunate.