- (Photo:ImageMovers Digital LLC/Disney/Handout)
This week marked the 200th birthday of renowned author Charles Dickens, and across the world many were looking back at all he has given to culture and society.
Charles Dickens made huge contributions to English Literature with novels like Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, David Copperfield, among many others. But did Dickens contribute more than literature to modern society? There is evidence that Christmas as we know it would not exist without Dickens and his heartwarming tale, "A Christmas Carol."
While it's hard to imagine Christmas as anything but a day of exchanging gifts under the tree with family and loved ones- that was not always the case. In fact, Christmas was a somewhat unpopular holiday in the early 19th century. According to Historian David Cannadine, this is because the puritans "equated [Christmas] with the twin evils of popery and royalty, and they feared it meant people might enjoy themselves too much."
The Guardian points out that industrialization in the 1840's did not do anything to help Christmas. The publication states that the decline in celebration could have been due to "mass migration to the cities after industrialization. Out of the countryside, in new, fractured urban communities, the old traditions didn't wear well, although nostalgia for them persisted."
During this time Christmas didn't even stop the workday. Cannadine explains, "The Conservative Party arranged an ordinary business meeting on Christmas Day itself, on the grounds that the members would be both able and willing to attend."
The injustice of working on Christmas Day is a central theme to Dickens's popular novella "A Christmas Carol," published December 19, 1854. It was published at a time ripe for a revival of Christmas traditions, as Prince Albert had recently introduced the Christmas tree.
The novella features curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge realizing just how special Christmas is. But perhaps more important to creating the traditional Christmas we know today, "A Christmas Carol" also depicts a poor, down-on-their-luck family, overcoming odds and celebrating Christmas with a special dinner, the exchanging of gifts, and merely spending time with one another. "A Christmas Carol" romanticized the holiday, and helped make Christmas the heartwarming tradition it is today.
In the novella's preface, Dickens wrote:
"I have endeavored in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humor with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it."
He did more than raise the ghost of the idea of Christmas; he solidified the wonder and joy of Christmas as we know it. Although Christmas will obviously center on the birth of Jesus Christ for Christians, few would doubt Dickens' lasting impression his work had on the Christmas holiday.