Today, Christmas is one of the most anticipated holidays in the entire year, and people all over the world look forward to it with excitement and joy. However, it wasn’t always this way, and there’s just a chance that we have Charles Dickens, one of our best authors, to thank for the Christmases we celebrate today.
In Victorian times, Christmas wasn’t celebrated in any way we would recognise today. As the website charlesdickenspage.com explains, ‘at the beginning of the Victorian period the celebration of Christmas was in decline. The medieval Christmas traditions, which combined the celebration of the birth of Christ with the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia (a pagan celebration for the Roman god of agriculture), and the Germanic winter festival of Yule, had come under intense scrutiny by the Puritans under Oliver Cromwell’.
Not only this, but the Industrial Revolution also meant that the workers running the factories in which English history was being made were being worked to the bone. Living standards were slow to improve at the start of the Industrial Revolution, meaning that working class families had little to live on, and so times were understandably tough. To find out more about this interesting topic, consider reading Clark Nardinelli’s in depth research into the effects of the Industrial Revolution on the standard of living, which can be found at the Library of Economics and Liberty.
Essentially, at the time of Charles Dickens’ novel ‘A Christmas Carol’, Christmas was just starting to become popularised again, and the book gave the final shove that was needed to get Christmas back for good.
As explained by Historic UK: ‘The wealth and technologies generated by the industrial revolution of the Victorian era changed the face of Christmas forever. Sentimental do-gooders like Charles Dickens wrote books like “Christmas Carol”, published in 1843, which actually encouraged rich Victorians to redistribute their wealth by giving money and gifts to the poor – Humbug! These radical middle class ideals eventually spread to the not-quite-so-poor as well.’
The themes in Charles Dickens’ novel did a lot to change the face of Christmas as well, and one thing it certainly did was to make Christmas a time for children. Though Santa Claus didn’t exist as an idea in England yet, Victorians did believe that Christmas celebrations ought to be very child-centric. Victorian Web explains that Dickens’ ‘interest in Christmas as a time for children is clearly evinced by the fact that the first of Scrooge’s journeys in A Christmas Carol is a re-visitation of winter holidays from his own childhood’.
The BBC possibly sums up Charles Dickens’ effect on today’s Christmas the best though, saying that ‘while Charles Dickens did not invent the Victorian Christmas, his book A Christmas Carol is credited with helping to popularise and spread the traditions of the festival. Its themes of family, charity, goodwill, peace and happiness encapsulate the spirit of the Victorian Christmas, and are very much a part of the Christmas we celebrate today’.