Christmas Carol

It’s hard to imagine a Christmas season without Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol making an appearance. This Christmas/Holiday season finds me giving copious quantities of cash to assorted home supply shops as I organize my new apartment. My daughter and her daughter are celebrating all of us being together this year by helping me bake cookies for a church fundraiser to support a local charity. I hope you’ll enjoy this rerun from 2018. May the transformed Ebenezer Scrooge inspire your own year-end activities.

Skip to the end for details about my special year-end book sale event.

Dickens opened his smash hit novella with this:

I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to rise the Ghost of an idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their house pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

Their faithful Friend and Servant.

December 1843

The Man Who Invented the Modern Christmas?

What would Dickens think if he could see how his efforts to “rise a Ghost of an idea” inspired numerous versions of his story in theatres, movies, spin-off books, and festivals?  Paul Millward’s Literary Traveler  2017 article suggests we thank Dickens for the popular, and lately, controversial, “Merry Christmas” greeting. After Dickens used the phrase in Christmas Carol, it went viral. I suspect Dickens would be shocked to learn that today people argue with strangers on social media about the appropriate use – or failure to use –  the phrase in the public arena.

Dickens set out to write something that would resolve his desperate financial straits.  Our modern Christmas traditions are relatively new. Dickens was born in the English Victorian era, when Christmas as a festival had begun to decline. There were still remnants of earlier pagan-inspired Christmas traditions, but it took Dickens’ story to rekindle the kind of lavish Christmas traditions we observe today. He introduced readers to a version of the season based on joy, compassion, fellowship, and family – the ideals on which modern western cultures mark the season.

Unintended Consequences

Some go so far as to credit Dickens for inventing the modern Christmas season. Though he makes only veiled references to the Biblical birth-of-Christ narrative, he champions charity and goodwill toward all, just like the angels in the Biblical accounts. He hits hard on the theme that the key to happiness is giving to others. Ebenezer Scrooge is the antithesis of that. It takes four spirits – the ghost of his partner Jacob Marley and the Christmases past, present, and future – before Scrooge comes to his senses and turns his life around.

Though that central message is often lost in the piles of presents and platters of pastries, it remains the primary reason for the season. Dickens’ story launched an avalanche of sentimental journeys through the bleak winter season.

Desperation Fuels Inspiration

When Dickens wrote Christmas Carol in the fall of 1843, he desperately needed a successful story. His wife Catherine was about to give birth to the fifth of their ten children. He was deeply in debt, and his two previous writing efforts had flopped. He had huge debts of his own, plus those he inherited from his father. Desperation, as much as inspiration, prompted Dickens to write Christmas Carol.

Whatever motivated him, he wrote a ghost story that hit the mark then – and continues to do so today.  Christmas Carol sold 6,000 copies by Christmas Eve and has been in print ever since in several languages. Any modern author would be thrilled to have their books do as well as this novella did.

Write About What You Know

Authors often advise “write about what you know.” Dickens knew about poverty. At times during his life, Dickens could easily relate to the plight of Bob Cratchit. Born in 1812, as the second of eight children, his parents were poor but provided a happy enough childhood for him and his siblings – just like Bob Cratchit does for his family.

When Dickens was ten, the family moved to a poor section of London where the family’s financial struggles degenerated from difficult to desperate. When Dickens was twelve, his father was sent to debtor’s prison. Dickens dropped out of school and took a job at a boot-blacking factory to help support the family. The family’s fate improved when his father inherited enough money to pay off his debts, and young Dickens returned to school for a few years.

When he was fifteen, he dropped out again to take a position as an office boy. That was the start of his literary career. He started freelance reporting in the London courts, which in turn gave him the skills to report for two major London newspapers. At age twenty-one, he started submitting his work to various magazines and newspapers under the pseudonym “Boz.” He went on to publish fifteen novels.

From Print to Film and Far Beyond

The first U.S. adaptation of Dickens’ story to the screen was rushed into production in 1938. The movie differed from the novel in a variety of ways, such as the timing of the arrival of the three Christmas ghosts. Several parts of the book didn’t make it to the first screen version; including Scrooge’s fiancée leaving him for being so stingy and the two poor starving children “Want” and “Ignorance.”

I have three favorite versions of Christmas Carol. 

  • The 1984 movie version starring George C, Scott
  • The 1992 The Muppet Christmas Carol
  • The 1956 musical The Stingiest Man in Town, starring Vic Damon and the Four Lads, among others.

My folks played that record every year as we decked our family halls. What’s your favorite version of Christmas Carol?

May the spirit of Christmas haunt your home pleasantly.
Merry Christian. Happy Holidays. God Bless Us, Everyone.

BLATANT END OF YEAR BUY A BOOK  BEG  – Some authors make a livable income from their book sales. I am not one of them; I’m more like Dickens’s pre-Christmas Carol success story. I write for the love of the craft and my passion for the topics I cover. I also share any profits with assorted non-profit organizations. When you purchase any of my books, you are indirectly helping a worthy cause. Check out what’s available through December. Sadly, due to the increased cost of shipping real paper and ink books, rates will have to go up come January.

‘TIS THE SEASON: A HOLIDAY ANTHOLOGY: A dozen delightful short stories, each with a holiday theme, await you between the covers of this annual treat from Texas Sisters Press. One of them is by yours truly. “A Rose By Another Name” tells how sometimes the entrance to joy is through a door marked “tragedy.” Special Holiday price of just $12 (which includes shipping) – or $1/story. HowWiseThen/’Tis the Season
AsunderASUNDER: The holidays can be brutal for those going through them for the first time after the loss of a loved one. Be inspired by how one fictional middle age woman, with the support of family and friends, dealt with grief that threatened to overcome her. Only $6 at HowWiseThen/Asunder
MARRIED AND MOBILE: Moving is a mix of exciting anticipation and discouraging challenges of letting go and starting over again. Get some tips for navigating the process from the book I wrote after making four moves in five years. Ya, that was fun. Clearance Sale Price of only $6 at HowWiseThen/Married&Mobile
A Ready HopeA READY HOPE: It seems we hear about another disaster somewhere in the world every week. Whenever disaster strikes, hundreds of well-organized volunteers come together through non-profit disaster response organizations to bring help and hope. In this book, you’ll learn what typically happens through the first year following a disaster and ways to help that are actually helpful. $12 at HowWiseThen/A Ready Hope.
Mayflower Chronicles cover
MAYFLOWER CHRONICLES: THE TALE OF TWO CULTURES: Based on seven years of research and interviews with historians, including Indigenous leaders, this historical fiction tells the rest of the story of why the people we call Pilgrims left England and what happened when the Indigenous people encountered them establishing their new settlement. $21.99 at HowWiseThen/Mayflower Chronicles


  1. I love it when TV series make a version of A Christmas Carol in one of their episodes. This and It’s a Wonderful Life. What were the novels that had poor reception at this time in Dickens’ career?

  2. It’s not officially Christmas until I’ve watched some version of Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. I don’t know which of Dickens’ works flubbed prior to Christmas Carol. Guess I”ll have to do some more research.

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