Santa's Whiskers

"A Christmas Carol", cloth bound, first edition, 1843


A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens

"A Christmas Carol" is a novella by Charles Dickens. 
Published on December 19, 1843, It tells the story of
how the miser Ebenezer Scrooge is transformed after
visits from the ghost of his partner Jacob Marley, as
well as the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and
Yet to Come. The story met with instant success and
critical acclaim.

It was written and published in early Victorian era Britain,
a period when there was strong nostalgia for old
Christmas traditions together with the introduction of
new customs, such as Christmas trees and greeting

​ In England, during the early 1800’s, Christmas was barely
celebrated and December 25 was just a normal working
day. “The holiday was still suffering the effects of the
Puritan era and seen as a Pagan enterprise.” 

The old ceremonies and festivities had become obsolete because, as the poet Robert Southey remarked in 1807, "In large towns the population is continually shifting; a new settler neither continues the customs of his own province in a place where they would be strange, nor adopts those which he finds, because they are strange to him, and thus all local differences are wearing out." Both Sir Walter Scott in 1808 and Washington Irving in 1820 had likewise lamented the passing of the old 'country' Christmas. 

By the 1840’s many people approaching middle age (like Dickens) began to look back nostalgically to the good old days of coaches and hospitable inns, manorial feasts, and blazing Yule-Logs. However, Britain was also in need of new Christmas traditions because, for the first time in its history, it had become a nation of urbanites who could hardly afford to take off the twelve days that had constituted the holiday season for their rustic forebears. Enter Charles Dickens.

Dickens decided to visit America in 1842. One key reason was his desire to meet Washington Irving. Earlier Irving had written to express his admiration for Dickens’s “The Old Curiosity Shop”. Delighted to receive this compliment from an established American author, Dickens replied at once in the most enthusiastic terms. Several letters were interchanged, and the correspondence culminated in a personal meeting in New York shortly after Dickens’s arrival in America, in January. They met quite frequently during the next two or three months, until their intercourse was cut short by Irving’s departure as Minister to Spain in April of that year.

​ Dickens's descriptions of the Christmas scene in both "Pickwick" and "A Christmas Carol" owe a great deal to Washington Irving. At a New York dinner, hosted by Irving, Dickens amusingly revealed his devotion to the great American author: "I say, gentlemen, I do not go to bed two nights out of seven without taking Washington Irving under my arm upstairs to bed with me".

Dickens would have known that Irving had traveled extensively throughout Europe and was especially fond of England and its old world character. He would have known that some of Irving’s stories evolved from his time in England,  including "Bracebridge Hall" (1822), a blend of fact and fiction that centers on an old manor house, its residents and guests, and their elaborate parties and tales.  It was here that Irving enjoyed and later recorded the grand Christmas festivities and English rituals that had largely faded from the nation.

By the time the two met in person, Irving was 65, and his significant Christmas related writings were behind him. Dickens was in his thirties and very familiar with the writings of Irving. More than likely he was also aware of the work of Pintard, Paulding andMoore.

Soon after his return to England, Dickens began work on the first of his Christmas stories, "A Christmas Carol", written in 1843, which was followed by "The Chimes" in 1844 and "The Cricket on the Hearth" in 1845. Of these "A Christmas Carol" was most popular and, tapping into an old tradition, did much to promote a renewed enthusiasm for the joys of Christmas in Britain and America.

According to the historian Ronald Hutton, the Christmas that we celebrate today is largely the result of a mid-Victorian revival of the holiday spearheaded by “A Christmas Carol”. Dickens focused on Christmas as a family-centered festival of generosity. So popular was the work that the characters of Scrooge, Tiny Tim, and the Christmas ghosts entered into our holiday cultural consciousness. The phrase 'Merry Christmas', was popularized, the term Scrooge became a synonym for miser, and the dismissive put-down exclamation 'Bah! Humbug!'  gained currency as an idiom.