Hearts Through History Romance Writers

When will Christmas be over?

by | December 14, 2011 | 12 comments

Heaped up upon the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam.

–Stave Three, the Second of the Three Spirits — A Christmas Carol

This beloved work of Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870) was written in 1843 when Twelfth Night was still the primary winter holiday in England.  January 6th, and not December 25th, was the focus of the Season.  Christmas Day was a very simple, almost unnoticed affair when church services were the highlight of the day.  In contrast, Twelfth Night involved feasting, games and the traditional cake–an elaborate affair that contained a dried bean and a dried pea.  Their discovery conferred royalty status on the finders, even if they were ordinary servants. 

Knowing what feasting and partying was awaiting you at the end, wouldn’t you want to hurry through the Christmas season?

I’m not suggesting Dickens wrote Carol solely to address the evils of Twelfth Night, or the curious schedule of festivities during the Christmas season.  But he had given the story’s principal character, Ebenezer Scrooge, an almost painful revulsion of Christmas.  A dread of December 25th because it signalled the beginning of a twelve-day period of unhappiness that for him seemed to culminate in a glorious celebration of his aching heart.

Dear me.  It’s the “message” story.  Tricky for even the best of writers who attempt it. 

Yet Dickens succeeded brilliantly.  Back in those days, a print run may be a few hundred copies.  Dicken’s little ghost story succeeded in selling hundreds of thousands and has never been out of print since.  

Moreover, he managed to vault Christmas Day to its present-day primacy during the Season that is celebrated throughout the world.

How did he do it?

By drawing out Scrooge’s long-suppressed memories.  A kind of backstory that triggers our own memories, even unhappy ones, of Christmas past.  Scrooge courted his lovely Belle during the Regency–the dawn of the Romantic age–when discipline and order were shed in order to seek the things that gratify us emotionally.  But encroaching worries of poverty, echoing Dickens’ own childhood, scrubbed away those tentative shoots of pleasure that grew in Scrooge’s heart, turning him to the elusive stability of a golden idol.

Belle perceived the fear in Ebenezer of being without money, and so she released him from the scandal of crying off their engagement:

“Another idol has displaced me; and if can cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve.”

It was an exquisite portrait of all our worries that seek to hem us in, cutting us off from the love of others.  Dickens knew this to be a bold self-portrait, not only of himself but of others.  He had tried out this theme before–in his Pickwick Papers, (1836-1837).  Chapter 28 is the rather frightening poem of Gabriel Grub, the mean, lonely sexton who dug graves on Christmas Day and spared no effort to hit a child on the head with his lantern for singing on Christmas Day. 

Why, you ask?  Because Christmas is painful and must be gotten through with as little rejoicing as possible.  It causes the heart to remember, and to bleed, much like the dance Ebenezer observed–the dance of Sir Roger de Coverley.

“Christmas is quite a country gentleman of the old school.  (It brings forth) many old recollections… and many dormant sympathies.”

Dormant sympathies that are collectively invoked, putting us, the reader, in a frame of mind to recall the past and receive the message.  Having received the message, Scrooge learned what it was to be happy again.  He was a second father to little Tim, a good old soul in a good old Victorian world of sleighs, top hats and ringlets. 

We may laugh, yet such sentiment was assumed without regard to the derision of others who observed the wondrous change that had come over the wealthy old man:

“His own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him.”

Good charity, nay, the best! comes from the efforts of individuals. 

And the finest reward is happiness, whether it be Christmas Day, Twelfth Night, or any other day of the year.


  1. Callie Hutton

    What a wonderful post! I’ve always loved A Christmas Carol, another story with a happy ending. You’ve given us a lot of information on Dickens himself, as well as the story.

    Merry Christmas to all.

  2. Paty Jager

    Great insight into a wonderful story.

  3. Angelyn

    Thanks, Callie and Paty. I hope the post didn’t seem too maudlin. Dear me.

  4. Ally Broadfield

    How interesting to analyze such a familiar story. Church services were also the focus of Christmas Day in Russia during that time, as it seems to have been in most cultures.

    • Angelyn

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Ally. The contrast to other countries’ customs is especially enriching. Thanks for commenting.

  5. Emma

    I grew up on the 1938 and 1951 movie versions. What I remember best is the scene where the dead business men are trying to throw gold at a starving mother and child sitting in the snow and, of course, it’s doing no good. They know this but they keep trying. They’re almost frantic. Ebenezer questions what these men are doing and Marley says “They seek to interfere for good in human matters, and have lost their power forever.” That scene scared the daylights out of me as a kid and, even as an adult, it’s still the most powerful part of A Christmas Carol for me. Dickens might have been a wordy son-of-gun but he sure could tell a story. Great blog!

    • Angelyn

      Oh, that 1951 version is so very frightening. The weeping and wailing. Dickens was so very passionate about the welfare of children I believe he would cast anyone into hell for withholding their charity. Thank you for commenting.

  6. Susan Macatee

    What a great post! I’ve always loved ‘A Christmas Carol’ in whatever form it’s presented.

    Interesting enough, I was watching a morning news program where they were discussing families who decided to celebrate Christmas after the actual holiday, so in this ecomonically distressed time, they could hit the after Christmas sales and could buy presents they could afford.

    But the point was brought up that–as you stated in your post–Christmas was primarily celebrated as a religious holiday with the partying occuring at a later date. January.

    • Angelyn

      Hmmm, celebrating after the fact… That might be a new trend–turning folks back to the old tradition of celebrating Twelfth Night. Thanks for commenting, Susan!

  7. Joy Smid

    Great Post! I have a BBC collection of Dickens novels.
    I love the names he gives his characters. So descriptive!
    When I was young, those ghosts in The Christmas Carol really scared me, especially the one dragging the chains.
    Thanks for all the info. I will think of this blog when I watch the Dickens Christmas Carol this season.

    • Angelyn

      Bleak House is a particular BBC fav of mine. Honoria. Tulkinghorn. Smallweed. Great names.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Joy Smid

    There is a current biography of Charles Dickens called “Charles Dickens: A Life” by Claire Tomalin.
    I didn’t know he was buried in Westminster against his wishes.



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