Since it was first published on December 19, 1843, A Christmas Carol has been a holiday staple the world over. Never out of print, the story has been adapted to television and the big screen numerous times. It’s a story of charity, of kindness and of hope for the inherent goodness that exists in all men. Indeed, when Charles Dickens wrote the story over six weeks in the fall of 1843, it was with a noble aim.
Having grown up as a child laborer with a father in debtor’s prison, Dickens understood what it meant to go without and to toil under a cruel hand. After reading a report on Britain’s child labor population, he was incensed that such a problem continued without answer. In response, he intended to write a pamphlet titled “An Appeal to the People of England, on Behalf of the Poor Man’s Child” but instead, decided to write something that would strike “a sledgehammer blow” against the practice and the greed that led to it.
His mind was completely made up when, in October of 1843, he traveled to Manchester to give a speech in support of the Athenaeum, an educational charity for working men and women. Britain was in the midst of a large economic depression and walking the roads of Manchester, Dickens witnessed families starving on the streets. During his speech, he railed against the upper class of privileged men who stood determined to never share their extravagant gains with any who needed help.
A Christmas Carol was finished on December 2 but Dickens had trouble getting it printed. Finding it silly, his publishers refused to wholly support the book and only contributed a mediocre amount to publication. Dickens paid for the rest himself. It was an instant classic.
The book’s antagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge, embodies all of the greed, selfishness and coldness that exists in modern society, especially its view of the poor, when he states that “those unable to work should die and decrease the surplus population.” With understanding and empathy, Scrooge soon changes his tune. One of the most important (and overlooked) lessons Charles Dickens yearned to teach with A Christmas Carol is the idea that to deny poor children life’s necessities (food, clothing, healthcare, education, etc.) is to push them toward a violent and dangerous adulthood. Everyone deserves to live without want and ignorance.
Christmas was always meant to be a time of charitable giving, when the “haves” provided a hand to the “have nots.” This Christmas (and in the year that follows), keep in mind those less fortunate than yourself and find a way to help, if only a little.
Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year … and thank you for your kindness.
Illustration courtesy of Arthur Rackham, Wiki Commons