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The man who saved Christmas

The annual complaints about Christmas are almost always the same.  It’s too commercialized, it’s too much money, it’s too glitzy and it’s just too much.  I don’t agree with this, I am a big fan of Christmas, and I would remind these 21st century Scrooges that there was a time, not so long ago, when Christmas was hardly celebrated at all.  The warmth, cheer, and magic so many of us associate with the holiday, had faded away years before.

The early 19th century, both in Britain and America, was the beginning of the industrial revolution. While it ushered in our modern society, it was a transformation that came at a high price. As people moved from farms to the cities, traditional society and family ties were disrupted on a scale that is hard to imagine today. No longer working on farms, men and women moved to the newly emerging cities to work in dingy and dangerous factories. Work that had for centuries been tied to the seasons and outdoors was now a function of the time clock. All the familiar connections to relatives, the land, and their home towns had been disrupted. Traditional holidays, so popular when people lived in the countryside, were fading.  The celebration of Christmas, which had been a part of life for centuries, receded so far that it was sometimes only recognized in passing.  

In both America and Britain, Christmas, which had once been celebrated with feasts and religious celebrations, didn’t even merit a day off.

However, in 1843 all that began to change.  Charles Dickens, wrote his famous story, “A Christmas Carol.”  It told of an old miser named Ebenezer Scrooge.  It’s a name that has become synonymous with greed and meanness.  Scrooge, not surprisingly, disdained the traditional Christmas, but on one night he was visited by three ghosts: the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.  Following his supernatural sojourn, where he was presented with his past and likely fate if he didn’t change, he became a different man.  He resolved to “keep Christmas throughout the year.”  The story’s message was that even a man like Scrooge, someone seemingly without a soul, could be redeemed.  

I remember my grandfather, normally a quiet man reading the story on Christmas Eve.  With his accents, inflexions, and well-timed pauses he made the story come to life.

It’s unlikely that Dickens fully appreciated how popular his story would become.  It was first printed in newspapers in serial form and it was read by millions.  It was quickly put in novel form and has been in print for most of the past 170 years.

But most importantly, it set into a motion a change in society’s attitude towards the celebration of Christmas.
In a sense it reminded people, in its own unusual way, what with ghosts and dead men rattling chains, what Christmas was all about.

As someone who is an unashamed fan of Christmas and all it entails let me say to that remarkable writer Charles Dickens, “thank you for helping bring back Christmas.

 

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