If there is one person responsible for the modern version of Christmas we celebrate today, that person is Charles Dickens and the story that converged many rituals into one and reinvented the holiday we know today is A Christmas Carol.
For a story concerned with giving to others in compassion, goodwill, and charity towards all, Dickens foremost reason for writing the book was to make money and fast. He just completed a tour of America and had to spend much of his own money and with a large family to support he did what he knew best. Although he didn’t earn the amount he had hoped for as the binding used in manufacturing the book proved too expensive and on top of that he lowered the price of the book to make it readily available to the masses.
Altogether, the book was a success and that rested on the fact that Dickens knew the subject of what he wrote for he had grown up poor and had witnessed first hand the workhouses and the deplorable condition of the lower class. And another outcome of the book’s success was his ability to weave many traditions from the past and present into a cohesive whole.
The paragraph below is my favorite and each year at Christmas I take out the book and recite it again and again. For me, it is prose but reads like poetry.
“Again the ghost sped on, above the black and heaving sea… on, on… until, being far away, as he told Scrooge, from any shore, they lighted on a ship. They stood beside the helmsman at the wheel, the lookout in the bow, the officers who had the watch; dark ghostly figures in their stations; but every man among them hummed a Christmas tune, or had a Christmas thought, or spoke below his breath to his companions of some bygone Christmas day, with homeward hopes belonging to it. And every man on board, waking or sleeping, good or bad had had a kinder word for one another on that day than on any day in the year; and had remembered those he cared for at a distance and had known that they delighted to remember him.”
-Charles Dickens- ‘A Christmas Carol’
You can read this story and it will fit directly into today’s headlines. We are still embedded in a society of haves and have-nots and the divide seems to get wider. But just as that ship and its crew from different ports of call and walks of life “had a kinder word for one another” may we do our part to grow beyond a semblance of affection towards one another to an affinity of love and goodwill for all.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays…