Christmas, Charles Dickens’ and today

This video says about itself:

Sep 23, 2012

A Christmas Carol is a novella by English author Charles Dickens, first published by Chapman & Hall on 19 December 1843. The story tells of sour and stingy Ebenezer Scrooge’s ideological, ethical, and emotional transformation after the supernatural visits of Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. The novella met with instant success and critical acclaim.

The book was written and published in early Victorian era Britain when it was experiencing a nostalgic interest in its forgotten Christmas traditions, and at the time when new customs such as the Christmas tree and greeting cards were being introduced. Dickens’ sources for the tale appear to be many and varied but are principally the humiliating experiences of his childhood, his sympathy for the poor, and various Christmas stories and fairy tales.

The tale has been viewed by critics as an indictment of 19th-century industrial capitalism. It has been credited with restoring the holiday to one of merriment and festivity in Britain and America after a period of sobriety and sombreness. A Christmas Carol remains popular, has never been out of print, and has been adapted to film, stage, opera, and other media multiple times.

By Keith Flett in Britain:

2012: Ghosts of a Christmas past

Sunday 23 December 2012

Food banks and soup kitchens are a growing feature of coalition austerity Britain and media comparisons of Christmas 2012 with Dickensian Christmas scenes are commonplace.

Dickens’s A Christmas Carol can be seen as an attack on what is now called neoliberalism the first time it came around in the 1840s.

Ultimately Scrooge, the George Osborne figure in the book, gives way and embraces Victorian philanthropy.

Yet the class reality of rich and poor dominated the Victorian Christmas just as it does today.

If we look back to the best selling radical paper of the late Victorian era, Reynold’s News, for 1862 we can see how little has fundamentally changed in the last 150 years.

The editorial of the Christmas edition of Reynold’s published on December 21 1862 made the point clearly.

The title was “The Christmas of the lazy rich and of the industrious poor.”

It argued that there were “thousands of families who have not even the means to buy a crust of bread for Christmas dinner” even in England, which at that time was the wealthiest country in the world.

If this sounds familiar at Christmas 2012 the next passage is even more so.

It refers to those who, while working hard, were not paid enough to be able to afford a decent Christmas meal.

The Reynold’s editorial spoke of “the still greater multitudes who though working are yet so wretchedly paid for their labour that beyond the mere daily diet of innutrious food they have nothing. The Christmas dinner … will have to be procured by running into debt or else by the sacrifice of household furniture.”

The conclusion that Reynold’s drew was to look at the contrast between those who ran industry and those who worked in it.

The former could afford to have a very enjoyable festive season at the expense of the latter who, for that reason and poverty wages, could not.

The previous edition of the paper on December 14 had looked at another issue which remains with us – what was happening to those who could not afford a decent dwelling during the cold winter weather.

It carried an article from the Daily News which reported that more paupers were dying in Victorian London than anywhere in the world.

As now the government was very keen to explain away such inconvenient realities but Reynolds’s made the point that “percentages, averages and all the hocus pocus of statistics are only mists, fogs, curtains and sleeping draughts except to the official mind.”

If the poor were struggling to find the money for a Christmas dinner and in some cases perishing through cold winter weather and malnourishment – as is still the case in 2012 – the capital also provided plenty of entertainment for the better off to enjoy the festivities.

A large advertisement in the final issue of Reynold’s for 1862 on December 28 highlighted the attractions of Crystal Palace, then a 10-year-old structure in Hyde Park.

The ad noted that the exhibition had “the largest decorated and illuminated Christmas tree upwards of 100 feet high.”

Provided that people had the wherewithal to pay the admission price of one shilling (a reduced rate applied for children under 12 – those of this age were adults in 1862) they could enjoy many of the Christmas entertainments that we are familiar with today.

Historically speaking this underlines that the work of Charles Dickens in inventing the “tradition” of the modern Christmas was largely done as early as 1862.

But while Dickens would have liked to banish the Scrooge mentality from Christmas, he failed.

Britain: Workers haven’t been this strapped for cash since 1874, Labour said yesterday. House of Commons Library figures show that Chancellor George Osborne has overseen the biggest slump in earnings after inflation in 140 years: here.

Berlin: A grim Christmas for many: here.

Australia: Christmas period highlights mounting social crisis: here.

24 thoughts on “Christmas, Charles Dickens’ and today

  1. Alex Miller

    This was the bicentenary year of the greatest novelist to write in the English language and Claire Tomalin’s Charles Dickens: A Life is a fitting tribute to the Inimitable author, “who set 19th-century London before our eyes and who noticed and celebrated the small people living on the margins of society.”

    Reading Tomalin’s biography it is easy to imagine the reaction Dickens would have had to the squalid Con-Dem coalition and as a republican he would have avoided the diamond jubilee celebrations like the plague.

    I did think that Tomalin was occasionally a little mean-spirited in her comments on some of the works but she redeems herself amply in the moving final paragraphs of the book.


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