Christmas is a holiday that people all around the world are familiar with, and take joy in celebrating each year. However, the Christmas that we know and love today was not always centered on the same ideas and principles that we are so well accustomed to. With the publication of Dickens’, A Christmas Carol, came the introduction of new customs and traditions. Dickens shifted the focus from one of community-based activities to being much more family-centered, and more specifically, child-friendly. As noted from our reading of Oliver Twist, as well as A Christmas Carol, it is evident that the welfare of children was an issue near and dear to Dickens’ heart. Along the same lines of child welfare, the welfare of the poor was also an equally important issue to Dickens. His concern with these issues can be seen most prominently in A Christmas Carol, in which he popularized the idea of the “spirit of Christmas” and the need for generosity throughout the year, rather than exclusively reserved for just one day of the holiday season; the association between Christmas and the spirit of giving is most obvious played out in the character of Ebenezer Scrooge, whose transition from mean-spirited to generous is charted by the appearances of each of the ghosts.
With the arrival of A Christmas Carol in the literary world came a new definition and meaning to what Christmas should be. Dickens was a strong advocate for the poor and disadvantaged. Through his writings he let out his frustrations over the manner in which the impoverished were treated, and the conditions in which they worked and lived. The scenes in which he depicted this level of suffering inspired him to reconstruct the holiday of Christmas to focus primarily on those who dearly needed the generosity that came with the holiday season; the need to appreciate family, friends, and life, no matter how much, or how little people had. This reinterpretation of the true meaning of Christmas is evident in the scene that depicts the Cratchit’s Christmas as seen by Scrooge when he visits with the Ghost of Christmas Present. Dickens writes, “They were not a handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes were far from being water-proof; their clothes were scanty; and Peter might have known, and very likely did, the inside of a pawnbroker’s. But, they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time…” (Dickens 108). Here, Dickens brings forth the idea that Christmas is a time to simply enjoy the presence of loved ones and forget one’s troubles – at least for that day. It is obvious to the readers that the Cratchits have very little, but by simply observing their actions one would not know this. Instead, they embody the spirit of Christmas that Dickens was such a proponent of. That is, one of joyfulness, good cheer and appreciation for those you love most.
However, Dickens is not referred to as “the father of Christmas” simply because of the ideas and concepts he revitalized with the holiday. Rather, it also has to do with the cultural aspects that he brought back into play, such as sending Christmas cards and caroling at people’s doors. Dickens also created the “scene” that one may call to mind when picturing the ideal Christmas. This scene may include, but is not limited to, large spreads of indulgent foods (replacing the often bony Christmas goose with a plump turkey), Christmas trees and the giving of gifts, normally only to children.
It is interesting to investigate just how much the publication of A Christmas Carol impacted Christmases to come all over the world. One must wonder just how many of these traditions and ideas would still be practiced had it not been for Dickens making his way onto the scene, both with his writing and his activism for the poor and disadvantaged. Perhaps naming him “Father Christmas” is more accurate than we think.
Blog post by: Alyssa Knott
Group Members: Maxwell Garnatt, McKenna Miller, Nivedita Rajan, Hannah Sugarman
Dickens, Charles, and Michael Patrick. Hearn. The Annotated Christmas Carol: A Christmas Carol. New York: C.N. Potter, 1976. Print.
“Dickens “the Man Who Invented Christmas.” The Victorian Web: An Overview. Ed. Phillip V. Allingham. N.p., 14 Dec. 2009. Web. 21 Sept. 2014.
Hudson, Alex. “Charles Dickens: Six Things He Gave the Modern World.” BBC News. BBC News Magazine, 15 Dec. 2011. Web. 21 Sept. 2014.
Perdue, David. “Dickens & Christmas.” David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2014.
Pold, Tom. “Fathering Christmas: Charles Dickens and the (Re)Birth of Christmas.” The Victorian Web: An Overview. N.p., 14 Dec. 2009 Web. 21 Sept. 2014.
What role do the children in the story, and the vision of childhood that the story incorporates, play in shaping the vision of Christmas that Dickens intends for us to have?