A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas (more commonly known as A Christmas Carol), is a novella by Charles Dickens that was first published in December 1843. It is worth reading every Christmas. Whether we read it aloud with our family and friends or open the pages on a chilly winter evening to savor the story in solitude, A Christmas Carol is always a special holiday experience.
A Christmas Carol recounts the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, an elderly miser. He is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley followed by the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. After their visits, Scrooge sees the error of his ways and is transformed into a kinder, gentler man. While the character of Scrooge has become the epitome of miserliness, his story of redemption reinforces expectations for Christmas Day as a time of peace and goodwill to all. The two key themes explored in A Christmas Carol are the ability of people to reform themselves and the treatment of the poor.
Dickens was personally familiar with the fate of poor people in the 19th century. In 1824 his own father was sent to a debtors’ prison. As a 12-year-old child, Dickens was forced to pawn his collection of books, leave school, and work at a shoe-blacking factory to help support his family. The two figures of Ignorance and Want, sheltering in the robes of the Ghost of Christmas Present, were inspired by real children Dickens had seen in London. As a writer, Dickens realized that the most effective way to reach people with his concerns about poverty and injustice was to write a deeply felt Christmas narrative rather than a political essay.
In musical terms, a Christmas carol is traditionally a joyful religious song celebrating the birth of Christ. Secular songs celebrating the Christmas season also grew in popularity during in the Victorian era. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens continues the carol metaphor by dividing his novella into staves rather than chapters; stave is another word for staff, the five parallel lines on which musical notes are written. There is discussion among academics as to whether this is a fully secular story, or if it is a Christian allegory.
The modern observance of Christmas in English-speaking countries is largely the result of the mid-Victorian revival of the holiday after a decline over the previous hundred years. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol novella inspired several aspects of Christmas such as family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, games, and a festive generosity of spirit. Check out this infographic on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.