’Tis the season in which every single potato, television show, song, soup, jumper, sock, and toilet roll is in its festive edition. There are Christmas cheeses, Christmas green smoothies, and Christmas teacups waved under our noses in every shop we enter on our manic gift-sourcing tour of the town. On the radio, Christmas songs, adverts, games, and greetings dance across the airwaves. Once home, we are bombarded with seasonal episodes of our favourite sitcoms, soaps, and news broadcasts. But, in the midst of this modern, consumerist onslaught, there stands, quietly in its timelessness, the pre-eminent Christmas book; A Christmas Carol.
First published in 1843, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is an iconic encapsulation of the very essence of the Christmas spirit. Cantankerous old Ebenezer Scrooge is urged to change his miserly ways and embrace the goodwill and generosity of Christmas by the ghost of his old business partner, Jacob Marley, and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. Scrooge is encouraged, throughout the novella, to become aware of those less fortunate than himself and of the need for generosity and fellow feeling at Yuletide.
“Irrespective of his poor upbringing, Dickens really loved Christmas,” says Louisa Price, curator of the Charles Dickens Museum in London. In many of his works, Christmas is associated with humbleness, charity, love, warmth, and cheer. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens uses the altruistic nature of the Christmas spirit to draw awareness to the struggles of the working poor and the plight of child labour. In the year of 1843, before he wrote the novella, he visited charities, workhouses, and Ragged Schools across Britain. A Christmas Carol is as much a celebration of the Christmas spirit as it is an encouragement to use the benevolence of this festive spirit to reach out to friends, to family, to foes, to people experiencing poverty, loneliness and hunger.
Instead of turning to the television as the sole source of family entertainment in this bleak midwinter, crack open a copy of A Christmas Carol and travel through time with Scrooge and his Ghosts. “Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol,” says Price, “knowing it would be read aloud.” So, instead of charades – which we can all agree is possibly the most torturous of Christmas traditions – you can read out loud to your Christmas gathering of family and friends, act out Scrooge’s gruff dialogue, and share the humour, poignancy, and enduring relevance of Dickens’ writing.
In the spirit of a true Dickensian Christmas, there are some excellent charities that would welcome donations during the festive period:
Crisis at Christmas offers companionship and support at Christmas to homeless people in the UK www.crisis.org.uk
The Salvation Army works to bring food and companionship to people in need at Christmas www.salvationarmy.org.uk
Age UK helps to combat loneliness and isolation amongst the elderly in the UK www.ageuk.org.uk