As it’s Christmas next week, it seemed like a good moment for the most obviously festive book on the list.
#47 A Christmas Carol is available for free on Project Gutenberg and in the Kindle store.
First published in 1843, the story is now one of the most popular Christmas stories, told alongside classics like ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas (also free) and, of course, the nativity story.
Dickens’ tale is brief but action packed, and covers the conversion to ‘keeping Christmas’ of one Ebeneezer Scrooge, miser and misanthropist, after a series of supernatural visitations.
A Victorian Christmas
As Scrooge is visited by the different spirits, he is shown a range of contemporary Christmases, from his own lonely childhood to the festive fun at his nephew’s house. It’s interesting to see which traditions have changed and which haven’t – although sucking pigs are out of fashion and filberts have been renamed hazel nuts, eating, drinking, and playing silly games are still very much in vogue.
In fact, many of our ‘essential’ traditions (tree, cards…) formed during this period, when Christmas returned to being a big mid-winter festival after a period of Puritan-enforced austerity.
The reason for the season
Dickens can’t resist a bit of moralising, and Carol is packed with lessons, from the over-arching message, which still resonates, down to very timely messages whose power has faded, such as a page arguing against a move to force bakeries to close on Sundays, denying poor people (who have no ovens at home) of their heartiest meal in the week.
This argument is put in Scrooge’s mouth, a rather unlikely home, and makes it clear that the spirits are avatars of Christianity. Although A Christmas Carol has been suggested as a secular alternative to the nativity story (for example in An Atheist’s Guide to Christmas) it’s seems to me like a solidly religious book with Christianity providing a cultural background (several mentions of church and God) and also the driving force, i.e. the spiritual redemption of Scrooge.
That said, one could ignore this side of it, and read the ‘spirit of Christmas’ as something other than religious as it does, also, mean generosity, loving kindness and goodwill, all of which are valuable things to celebrate and keep – whether in ones heart or elsewhere – throughout the year.
I enjoyed A Christmas Carol and it’s given me hope – I’ve got six more Dickens novels to read, and I’m not dreading them so much now. And, if I’m honest, I was touched by the descriptions of celebrations – it did actually put me in a festive mood, and help me look past the sometimes onerous preparations to the joy at the end of the tunnel.