On Dec. 19, 1843, Charles Dickens first published one of the most widely known holiday stories, A Christmas Carol. I dug around a bit to find the origins of this tale, and although widely diverging versions exist, one of the most reliable seems to be from PBS’s A Writer’s Almanac.
According to them, Dickens was inspired to write A Christmas Carol after reading a disturbing news story about child labor in England. He went to Cornwall to see for himself the horrible conditions of child workers in the mines there. He then visited the free schools set up for poor children. Seeing the terrible situation of children in poverty made him so angry, he decided to write a book exposing it, and publish it at his own expense. The original title was A Christmas Carol in Prose. Shown is a first edition.
The plot is as familiar as Christmas cookies. Ebenezer Scrooge, a mean old miser, goes through a life transformation during Christmas, a holiday he scorned: "Every idiot who goes about with Merry Christmas on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart." But after three visits from spirits, he sheds his hardened exterior and throws open his arms to embrace others at the end: "I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody!"
Timing was ripe for Dickens to publish A Christmas Carol. In the 17th century, the Puritans declared the holiday illegal, citing the fact that the Bible never gave the date of Christ’s birth. Thus, they deemed it a pagan celebration.
But Christmas enjoyed a resurgence in England in 1840, when Queen Victoria married a German prince, Albert. German traditions like Christmas trees became popular again in England.
A Christmas Carol showed Christmas as a time for family and for sharing simple pleasures. Some still viewed celebrates such as parties, dancing and drinking and playing games, dangerously close to Pagan rituals. But Dickens' vision of Christmas still inspires many to keep the Christmas spirit alive.
One of my favorite versions stars Patrick Stewart.
This Christmas, I bought the Disney DVD with Jim Carrey, which seems a nice halfway version between The Muppets Christmas Carol and the stern old black and white version.
Of all the remakes, which is your favorite?