Did Charles Dickens really "invent" Christmas?

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5 December
11:19
December
2016

The quick answer is 'no'. Christmas obviously goes back centuries and what had happened was that during the Puritan revolution in the seventeenth century, the movement went away from rituals and celebrations and sense of enjoyment that had been part of the old Catholic tradition to a somewhat more austere and unpleasant kind of Christianity. 

"He certainly doesn't think that it should be Christmas every day, but he does think that the values of Christmas are hugely important."

As Britain was coming out of that Puritan attitude, Christmas was being celebrated more and more in the early years of the nineteenth century. Washington Irving had written stories in 'The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon' ten or 20 years before Dickens wrote 'A Christmas Carol' with the idea of convivial family gatherings around a tree, so that was an important tradition that Dickens was tapping into. He clearly hasn't invented it, but he made it his own. Especially with 'A Christmas Carol', his views and name become associated with Christmas

The idea of Christmas as a time of fellow-feeling, of happiness, of celebration, of festivity, of fun, are very much at the heart of his views of what life should be. His attitude is much more expansive than that and he certainly doesn't think that it should be Christmas every day, but he does think that the values of Christmas are hugely important. 

What happened, because 'A Christmas Carol' has been in print ever since it was published in Christmas 1843 and it has been endlessly adapted for the stage, cinema and radio – I'd argue that more people know about Scrooge and 'Bah humbug' than have ever heard of Dickens – is that for five of the next six years he took time out to write another novella the length of'A Christmas Carol' which was a story for Christmas. It wasn't about Christmas, but it was story for people to gather around the fireside and read out loud. 

"There's the famous story about the little girl who asked, 'Oh, has Dickens died? Will Father Christmas die too?'"

Through the 1840's he wrote more Christmas books and then when he founded a weekly journal, 'Household Words' in 1850, every year he had a special Christmas number. He'd invite fellow writers to write stories that would fit into a framed device that he would invent and he would always contribute to it. Some years just he and Wilkie Collins did it, other times he'd have half-a-dozen to a dozen writers each contributing to his particular motif. 

The Christmas numbers sold two or three times more than the general circulation of the journal. So his name was associated with Christmas very closely. There's the famous story about the little girl who asked, 'Oh, has Dickens died? Will Father Christmas die too?' So he's associated with Christmas that way but also because his central beliefs about the value of conviviality, of selflessness, of enjoyment are at the very heart of his fiction and that fits in very nicely with Christmas celebrations.

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