Charles Dickens and Christmas Culture

It wouldn’t be a Victorian Christmas without discussing Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol!  Enjoy our Christmas post below from our intern, Megan, and learn about the darker context behind  A Christmas Carol.

From Megan:

The celebration of Christmas predated the Victorians, but the culture that surrounds the holiday today coincided with the work of Charles Dickens. In A Christmas Carol – the story of heartless capitalist who found himself confronted by the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future – Dickens constructed the myth of the spirit of Christmas. While Dickens has been credited with inventing Christmas, many of the traditions now integral to celebrations were not included in A Christmas Carol. Modern practices – even caroling – were not present in the infamous story. The most essential contribution of A Christmas Carol to modern holiday celebrations derived from the endurance of the idea of Christmas spirit: emphasis on family, food, decorations, and goodwill. An examination of the context in which Dickens’s tale was conceived, however, revealed a darker side of the story.[1]



As with A Christmas Carol, Dickens organized his literary works around the class struggle in Victorian England. Charles Dickens’s fixation on the plight of the poor derived from his childhood experience in a family living in poverty. As a result of his father’s inability to manage the family’s finances, Dickens and the rest of his family were held in a debtors’ prison for six months. With power came responsibility, and Dickens used his eventual success and celebrity platform to elucidate the prevalence of economic disparity within England – helping to propagate the term “red tape” for bureaucratic policies that marginalized the poor. Perhaps the most significant motivator for his efforts toward social justice, Dickens venerated children and was tremendously disturbed by the plight of poor, uneducated, and often imprisoned juveniles. This devotion to children shaped his story-telling with an emphasis the innocent, pure-hearted child.[2]


(Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. First edition. Title page.)

The romanticized image of Christmas presented in A Christmas Carol demonstrated Dickens’s hope for children and for the betterment of society. The beautiful, snowy Christmas Day that served as the setting for a revival of the human spirit and blessings to all characterized the spirit of Christmas for Dickens’s readers. A biographer of Charles Dickens, Peter Ackroyd, disputed criticisms of Dickens’s allegedly unrealistic expectations of Christmas. Dickens’s portrayal of the rare white Christmas as ordinary, for example, was defended by Ackroyd as having been inspired by the first eight years of Dickens’s life during which it always snowed at Christmas time. According to this interpretation, Dickens may have found the inspiration for this idealized holiday in his own reality. A second biographer and expert on Dickens, GK Chesterton, similarly defended the idealized version of the holiday, as well as the moral fortitude of the story. “Whether the Christmas visions would or would not convert Scrooge, they convert us,” Chesterton explained.[3]

Victorian England shaped Charles Dickens as a writer and as a legend. The Christmas spirit evoked by A Christmas Carol created the modern incarnation of the holiday festivities. The advancement in the commercialization of Christmas served as an ironic consequence of Dickens’s writings and social activism. To Charles Dickens, for the literary masterpieces – most notably A Christmas Carol – and for the spirt of Christmas, we remain eternally grateful.[4]


[1] Geoffrey Rowell, “Dickens and the Construction of Christmas,” History Today 43, no. 12 (1993): 17, MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost, accessed December 9, 2016.

[2] Alex Hudson, “Charles Dickens: Six Things he Gave the Modern World,” BBC News, December 15, 2011, accessed December 9, 2016,

[3] John Sutherland, “The Origins of A Christmas Carol,” Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians, British Library, accessed December 9, 2016,

[4] Sally Ledger and Holly Furneaux, Charles Dickens in Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).


Hudson, Alex. “Charles Dickens: Six Things He Gave the Modern World.” BBC News. December 15, 2011. Accessed December 9, 2016.

Ledger, Sally and Holly Furneaux. Charles Dickens in Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Rowell, Geoffrey. “Dickens and the Construction of Christmas.” History Today 43, no. 12 (1993). MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost. Accessed December 9, 2016.

Sutherland, John. “The Origins of A Christmas Carol.” Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians. British Library. Accessed December 9, 2016.


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