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Charles Dickens & Christmas

Dickens originally titled this work “A Christmas Carol in Prose” because he intended it to sing out the message that the meaning and spirit of Christmas can be lived everyday of the year.

It has been said that Charles Dickens’ 1843 story almost single-handedly revived the festive celebration of Christmas in England, bringing it from being a liturgical church celebration in which people were primarily observers, to being a celebration of Christ’s love in the home in which all are called to be participants. In “A Christmas Carol” this is featured particularly in the home of Scrooge’s clerk, Bob Cratchit, whose name is derived from the archaic English word for ‘crèche’, the place where the newborn presence of Christ abides.

David MacAdam, pastor of New Life Community Church in Concord, Massachusetts, who has written the musicals, “Song on the Wind”, “Celestial City” & “Ruth” wrote his musical version of Scrooge in 1984 in England where it was first produced. In this version he wanted to highlight the gospel themes alluded to in the original book.

Dickens scholar, N.C. Peyrouton wrote in The Dickensian (May 1963 p.106) that the theme of “A Christmas Carol” parallels the theology that “The salvation of man’s soul is effected by the change of heart and life wrought by Christ’s Spirit.”

Dickens’ originally titled his work, “A Christmas Carol in Prose.” A carol is a song or ballad of joy celebrating the birth of Christ. In keeping with the carol theme, Dickens structured his tale as a song with five ‘staves’ (rather than chapters). In each stave he makes reference to the gospel of Christ.

For example, in Stave 1, the ghost of Jacob Marley asks, “Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode!”

In Stave 2 the Spirit, reminiscent of the Light of the World says to Scrooge, “Would you put out, with worldly hands, the light that I give?” When Scrooge asks what his business is, the Spirit proclaims his redemptive purpose reminiscent to Luke 19:10 “to seek and save that which is lost”— “Your reclamation!” the Spirit says.

In Stave 3 Bob Cratchit observes the spiritual sensitivity of his lame child, Tiny Tim, telling his wife as he returns from worship, “He (Tim) told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”

In Stave 4, as the Cratchit family mourns the death of Tiny Tim, Peter Cratchit reads from Gospel of Mark, Chapter 9, verse 36 and arouses Scrooge’s spiritual hunger. Peter reads, ‘And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them.’ Dickens continues: “Where had Scrooge heard those words? He had not dreamed them. The boy must have read them out, as he and the Spirit crossed the threshold. Why did he not go on?”

In Stave 5, the final stave, Scrooge’s life is reclaimed as his recognition of his past, present and future move him to a place of repentance, faith and the discovery of forgiveness. In the end, Dickens writes of Scrooge: “It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

Dickens reminds us of the childlike faith that recognizes that even in times of poverty and hardship the meaning of Christmas can provoke love for God, and good will and generosity towards even the hard-hearted among us.

In 1849 Charles Dickens wrote “The Life of Our Lord” to teach his own children of Jesus Christ.

In 1856 Dickens wrote, “There cannot be many men, I believe, who have a more humble veneration for the New Testament, or a more profound conviction of its all-sufficiency, than I have.”

In 1869 he wrote in his last will and testament: “I commit my soul to the mercy of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and I exhort my dear children humbly to try to guide themselves by the teaching of the New Testament.”

In 1870 Dickens writes in a letter: “I have always striven in my writings to express veneration for the life and lessons of our Saviour; because I feel it; and because I re-wrote that history for my children-every one of whom knew it, from having it repeated to them, long before they could read, and almost as soon as they could speak.”

Christmas has its many wonderful traditions. But let us not forget the central tradition to tell the story that gives meaning to it all.

– David MacAdam