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Did Dickens invent the modern Christmas?

Christmas is, of course, the celebration a certain event in Bethlehem as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. But the immediate and enduring success of Charles
Dickens A Christmas Carol (1843) has played an important role in shaping the secular elements of the modern festival. 

What was Scrooge 'bah humbugging' about?

Christmas Day ... bound together all our home enjoyments, affections and hopes.  

At the time of the publication of A Christmas Carol (1843) Christmas was essentially a religious holiday. It officially lasted twelve days (on the first day of Christmas, my true love ...)  but most of the activities associated with it took place in church on the night of Christmas Eve and the morning of Christmas Day. 

Though many employers allowed their workers a second day off for Stephen's Day (Boxing Day in the UK) Scrooge was not unusual in insisting that Bob Cratchitt return to his bench early on the 26th.

Snow on Christmas Eve is relatively rare in London. But as Dickens biographer Peter Ackroyd points out, during the first eight years of his life "there was a white Christmas every year."  

Was Christmas a popular festival before Dickens?

By the C17th, Christmas had become a holiday of celebration and enjoyment - especially after the problems caused by the civil war. Cromwell wanted it returned to a religious celebration where people thought about the birth of Jesus rather than ate and drank too much. 

In London, soldiers were ordered to go round the streets and take, by force if necessary, food being cooked for a Christmas celebration. The smell of a goose being cooked could bring trouble. Traditional Christmas decorations like holly were banned. source

Dickens offers a romantic and inclusive alternative to Cromwellian puritanism - and he had the public on his side. 

A Christmas Carol tapped into a hunger for what historian Ronald Hutton calls ‘a family-centered festival of generosity’.  

Christmas Dinner - the event which symbolises Scrooge's redemption  - became the centrepiece of a new mode of celebration.

Which Christmas 'traditions' did Dickens popularise?

•    Family Celebration (including games like Blind Man Buff, Charades etc)
•    Food (mince pies, Christmas 'figgy' pudding etc)
•    Charity – giving money to good causes at Christmas
•    Christmas greetings – (‘Merry Christmas!') 
•    Generosity of spirit - (the opposite of ‘Bah Humbug!’)

By a strange coincidence the Christmas greetings  card also appeared for the first time in 1843. And though there are only fleeting references to Christmas Carols in the original novel, the singing of Christmas songs became inextricably linked with Dickens.

But wasn't Christmas a Pagan festival?

The Victorian Christmas also returned to its pagan roots as a mid-winter festival - holly, ivy, snow and red robins did not accompany the birth of Jesus in balmy Bethlehem.

It would, however, be mistaken to see A Christmas Carol as a rejection of the core religious character of the festival. The central theme - Scrooge's fall and redemption - is directly from the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

Fred & the Christmas Ghost? (playscript/worksheet)
A Christmas Carol Teaching Pack 
Aimed at inexperienced/reluctant readers & English language learners

English Language Teaching Pack  only £1.99 


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