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Charles Dickens and the Meaning of Christmas 🎄

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“I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.” – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens is probably the best-loved English novelist of the 19th century. And he has had more influence over the way we celebrate Christmas than likely any single person in history, aside from the “mighty Founder” himself, as Dickens would say.

Charles Dickens’s 1843 classic, A Christmas Carol, teaches that joy comes from giving, and when you raise someone up, it is your spirit that feels elevated.  This timeless lesson set Christmas as the season of charitable giving that has endured through today. 

Charles Dickens

Dickens was a moralist, satirist, and social reformer who crafted thoughtful stories and memorable characters that respectfully captured the way of life of England’s working poor.

The inspirations for the story that became A Christmas Carol came from Dickens’ own experiences. He saw how the Manchester Athenaeum – a library that provided education for working adults – bettered the people’s lives. This experience, along with scenes he had witnessed at orphan schools, prisons, and workhouses, caused Dickens to resolve to “strike a sledgehammer” for the poor. 

A Christmas Carol

In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge transforms from a cold miser to a kind and charitable person after four ghostly visits. The first visit is from Marley, his long-dead business partner. When Scrooge inquires after the heavy chains that weigh on Marley’s spirit, he explains that he forged the chains during his lifetime of ruthless business. When Scrooge protests, “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” Marley replied, “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business. Charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business.”  

Dickens forced the English to see the grinding poverty of their fellow countrymen and grow in spirit. No novel before A Christmas Carol had touched so many people. Dickens understood intuitively the sentiment that giving engenders.

After Scrooge sends a fatted goose to his employee, Bob Cratchit, he struggles to shave because he is so filled with joy that he can’t help but dance. Scrooge promises to make a significant gift to a charity collector he meets on the street. Filled to the brim with joy, Scrooge continues his walk in London, pats children on the head, and speaks to beggars. Dickens writes that Scrooge “had never dreamed that any walk – that anything – could give him so much happiness.”

These happy encounters reflect the spirit of the story’s ending – giving to others and charity make us happy, contented, and fulfilled. Dickens gives us an enduring message: we can find fulfillment in the common welfare of humankind.

This tale of charity, joy, and human redemption has endured beyond even Dickens’s vivid imagination. His account of Scrooge and the true meaning of Christmas has never been out of print, and Ebenezer Scrooge is one of the best-loved literary characters.

After almost 180 years, A Christmas Carol continues to touch our hearts. All of us understand that generosity brings joy. The story’s messages of kindness and compassion cut through the season’s materialism and get to the soul of the Christmas season. 

Spreading Christmas Joy

Make someone else’s life better, and watch what happens to you. Meaning and purpose will reinsert themselves into your holiday experience, giving way to a growing appreciation for the joyful abundance of life.

Do things big and small – join a group dedicated to a large service project, become a mentor, commit random acts of kindness in your neighborhood. Find out if your elderly neighbor needs a ride or meal. Even wishing store clerks and strangers waiting in long lines “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” can bring smiles to tired faces — and lift your own Christmas mood.

Spreading joy, gratitude, and happiness during the Christmas season and throughout the year are integral to your happiness, good health, and building stronger social bonds with those around you.

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