Father Christmas: Charles Dickens
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
One of the most widely recognized Christmas stories of all time, A Christmas Carol was an instant success upon its publication December 17, 1843. While Charles Dickens was already a famous author, he had set out to create a mainstream success that would not only bring him some much needed cash, but would draw attention to the plight of the working poor in Victorian England. In addition to doing all of this, he also succeeded in creating many of the Christmas traditions that we now know today.
Christmas celebrations had declined in England in the 17th century, the result of the Puritan suppression of celebrating Yuletide. While some held to the traditions of the past, the lavish Yuletide celebrations of yesteryear were rarely seen during the Industrial Revolution. Dickens used his ghostly tale to show readers how they could adapt historic holiday traditions to one-day parties within their homes – emphasizing the importance of spending time with family over greed and consumerism, regardless of household income or social status.
Haunted himself by the conditions of the working poor in England, Dickens walked the city streets at night while writing. He “wept and laughed, and wept again as he walked about the black streets of London fifteen or twenty miles many a night when all sober folks had gone to bed.” A great sympathizer of the poor, his own father was sent to debtors’ prison when Dickens was 12 years old. Forced to leave school to work in a boot blackening factory, that experience that left a mark on Dickens for the rest of his life. He used A Christmas Carol to show readers that the holiday season should inspire goodwill and generosity to all.
Charles Dickens wrote his “little Christmas book” in six weeks. Its initial printing sold out in three days and eight stage adaptations were in production within months of its release. Quite possibly the most well-known work of his career, his public readings of the book were also tremendously popular. The New York Times reported that “Mr. Dickens here showed a remarkable and peculiar power. Old Scrooge seemed present; every muscle of his face, and every tone of his harsh and domineering voice revealed his character.”
Dickens’ final public appearance was a reading of A Christmas Carol. According to The Telegraph, he closed by saying, “From these garish lights, I vanish now for evermore, with a heartfelt, grateful, respectful, and affectionate farewell.” He raised his hands to his lips in an affectionate kiss, tears running down his face and exited. He died three months later at age 58, but has hardly vanished. The next time you hear a hearty “Merry Christmas!” or sit down to a Christmas dinner, thank him for the celebration of Christmas he revived in Victorian England that spread around the globe.
“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!” – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol