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Christmas in the Age of Dickens

Christmas as we know it was born in the Victorian era, and Charles Dickens is often credited with contributing to its creation. From 1649-1660, England had been governed as a Commonwealth, led by Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans, who believed that Christmas and several other holidays had come from ancient pagan ceremonies. They tried to cleanse the church and the nation of what they thought were lingering pagan traditions, and in 1644 they actually outlawed the celebration of Christmas in England. In 1660 the Puritans were overthrown, the monarchy was restored with Charles II as king, and a diminished version of the Christmas holiday returned. Great feasting and drinking was done in the name of Christmas in the 18th century, but the nation had lost its spiritual and emotional investment in the season.

Santa Claus from Harper’s Bazaar, December 1867

Santa Claus from Harper’s Bazaar, December 1867

In the 1840s, Dickens produced a series of extremely popular Christmas tales for the purpose of regenerating the true spirit of Christmas.

A Christmas Carol, the first of Dickens’s Christmas Books, is Dickens’s most beloved and widely acclaimed fictional piece, cherished for its simple expression of what relations between human beings should be, at Christmas time and throughout the year. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens gives Scrooge’s nephew these words, which sum up the Christmas spirit this enduring tale has preserved for generations past and generations to come:

I have always thought of Christmas time…as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they were really fellow-passengers to the grave and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.

“Santa Claus”  1895 Library of Congress

“Santa Claus” 1895 Library of Congress

The English Christmas transformed in the mid-1800s, partly as a result of the traditions described in A Christmas Carol. The pre-Victorian-era Christmas was gradually reshaped to reflect the Victorian era’s religious revival and its growing humanitarianism and romanticism. The presence of the Industrial Revolution was felt in a newly-created, large and visible lower class unable to celebrate Christmas with the same luxurious abandon as their wealthier neighbors. The Victorians’ “New Christmas” stressed “the traditional values of neighborliness, charity, and good will” and emphasized the obligation of the rich to the poor.

The New Christmas met with some resistance, however, mostly from Puritans, Quakers and others who disapproved of the mingling of liquor and merriment with a sacred holiday, and who were disturbed by some of the tradition’s origins in pagan ritual. Writing in 1871, G.K. Chesterton provides an insight into the mid-19th century mindset with his claim that:

…in fighting for Christmas [Dickens] was fighting for the old European festival, Pagan and Christian, for that trinity of eating, drinking and praying which to moderns appears irreverent, for the holy day which is really a holiday.

In spite of its detractors, the New Christmas gradually took hold, and the Victorians established many of the customs that are at the center of today’s traditional Christmas celebration. In 1840, when Prince Albert celebrated the holiday at Windsor Castle by presenting his family with the “German” Christmas tree, all of England followed suit. The festival began to focus predominantly on the family, particularly on children. The first Christmas cards appeared in 1843, the year that A Christmas Carol was published. The originally pagan ritual of caroling was revived, gift giving grew in importance, and the traditional Christmas dinner began to take shape.

Christmas Customs in Victorian England

“Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle” wood engraving by J.L. Williams from The Illustrated London News

“Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle” wood engraving by J.L. Williams from The Illustrated London News

Charity: Christmas was a time to remember the less fortunate, and a host of charitable causes stepped up their appeals during the holiday season. Well-to-do individuals often visited poorhouses and other charitable institutions on Christmas Day, when a holiday dinner was served to the residents.

Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, was traditionally the day when servants and tradesmen were paid for services rendered during the year: money was deposited in the Christmas box.

Tree: Christmas trees became popular after an illustration of Victoria, Albert, and their children decorating a Christmas tree was published in The Illustrated London News in 1848. Victorian Christmas trees were elaborately decorated with trinkets such as tin soldiers, dolls, whistles, candies, fruit, nuts, and candles. Many decorations were homemade, and children often helped make garlands and paper decorations.

Beverages:Here we go a-wassailing,” begins a familiar carol. No Victorian Christmas was complete without a Wassail Bowl, a strong mulled punch made of sweetened and spiced ale or wine and garnished with roasted crab apples. Drinking the wassail from the same cup was the fashion.

A Christmas Carol title page

A Christmas Carol title page

Dance: In A Christmas Carol, partygoers at the Fezziwigs’ indulge in spirited dancing, akin to modern day square dancing. Another traditional dance was the Pavon or Pavane, named after the peacock because the movements of the gentlemen in their mantles and the ladies in their long gowns resembled a peacock’s sweeping steps.

Decorations: Then as now, halls were decked with holly, ivy, red berries, and of course, mistletoe. Young sweethearts kissed under the mistletoe and plucked a berry for each kiss.

Spectacles: The annual holiday excursion for families in the Victorian era was to a Christmas pantomime, a fairy tale or other traditional story adapted for the stage with music, spectacle and stock characters.

Christmas revels at prominent noblemen’s dwellings might include masques: short allegorical dramas performed by ladies and gentlemen in elaborate costumes, masks and headdresses, often ending in a formal dance.

Charles Dickens Biography

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens was born in Potsmouth in 1812. When he was 10, his family moved to London. They were very poor and his father was even arrested (when Charles was 12) because of their debts. Charles had to start working – at first in the factory and later in solicitor´s office.

He was always very keen reader and later he also started to write. His first work was published in 1833. He got married in 1836 and in the same year he started working on Pickwick Papers – he finished it a year later. The book was extremely successful and he became well-known. Within seven years he wrote next five novels and created unforgettable characters (as Scrooge from A Christmas Carol). Dickens very often referred to the situation of poor and wanted to improve their social condition. He wrote books as Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Pickwick Papers and A Christmas Carol and was considered to be one of the most famous writers of the 19th century. He was very energetic and remarkable. He had ten children, published his own magazines, traveled a lot and also acted. When he died in 1870, he was working on his 15th novel.

A Christmas Carol Illustrations

John Leech provided eight illustrations, four woodcuts and four hand colored etchings, for A Christmas Carol published in December 1843.


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Dickens’ A Christmas Carol Meets the 21st Century

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Dickens’ A Christmas Carol Meets the 21st Century

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It’s been 166 years since the publication of A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens’ seasonal story of redemption wrapped up in a biting indictment of 19th-century capitalism.

Scrooge (Jim Carrey) and Tiny Tim (Gary Oldman) are prepared to get you into the holiday spirit.

Scrooge (Jim Carrey) and Tiny Tim (Gary Oldman) are prepared to get you into the holiday spirit.

Telegraph.co.uk/Paula Bustamante—Yet in the era of global financial crisis and multi-billion-dollar fraud, Jim Carrey believes Dickens’s tale about how the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge learns to change his ways remains as relevant today as ever.

I think it’s a very pressing story nowadays, too,” said Carrey, the star of Disney’s re-imagining of the classic, released in North America on November 6. “I think stories get told at times when they’re supposed to be told.”

a_christmas_carol_jim_carrey_photoScrooge is the first corporate scumbag. The unloved scumbag. So, in this time when all our constructs are breaking down because of greed, this story is so pressing,” Carrey added.

“Everybody loves a good transformational story. You know, somebody who sees the light, who finally finds out what’s important in life. And, this is one of the greatest ones ever written.”

Just like the character of Scrooge, Carrey was confronted with a vision of his future during the making of the film.

But while Scrooge’s insight came via the spooky Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Carrey’s own premonition was entirely due to his appearance after the 3D movie’s special effects wizards went to work.

Jim Carrey

Jim Carrey

Instead of the familiar 47-year-old face known to millions in hits such as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Bruce Almighty, Carrey said he was left staring at the spitting image of his father.

When I saw the movie, one of the first things I said when I saw the first close up of Scrooge is, ‘my family is going to have a heart attack, because that is my father,'” he said.

It’s unbelievable. It’s really a look into the future for me. Not the long chin and the long nose, but the look is what I’m going to look like when I’m old,” Carrey added.

Disney’s new take on the classic is the latest in a long line of adaptations of the beloved 1843 novella, with the first screen version coming more than a century ago with in the 1901 British short Scrooge.

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More @ telegraph.co.uk

A Christmas Carol Tops Weekend Box Office with $31 Million

5926A Christmas Carol unsurprisingly topped the weekend box office with an estimated $31 million in receipts.

The latest foray by Robert Zemeckis into motion-capture filmmaking came in lower than initial expectations but easily bested the $23.3 million open by The Polar Express, his last holiday CGI film. With the holiday season only now ramping up, A Christmas Carol should continue to play strong for weeks to come.

A Christmas Carol starring Jim CarreyCharles Dickens’ timeless tale of an old miser who must face Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet-to-Come, as they help to bring kindness to his otherwise cold heart. The Ghosts remind him of the man he used to be, the hard truth of what the world is today, and what will happen if he does not strive to be a better man. Set around Christmas, the most joyous day of the year, Scrooge realizes the sharp contrast of his own personality.

Jim Carrey plays four separate roles in this updated version of A Christmas Carol. Carrey portrays Scrooge, as well as the three ghosts (Past, Present, and Yet-to-Come). His dynamic character roles keep the four characters as diverse as being played by four actors.

Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future trilogy) has his chance to dabble in telling a story through the windows of time, as he directs the long-awaited remake.

Our Favorite Versions

Each December my family and I watch our favorite versions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. What’s your favorite?

A Christmas Carol starring Alastair SimA Christmas Carol starring George C. ScottA Christmas Carol starring Patrick StewartScrooged starring Bill MurrayEbbie starring Susan Lucci
Ms. Scrooge starring Cicely Tyson

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Christmas in the Age of Dickens

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