December 17, 2012 - Anniversary of the publishing of A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens was already an international celebrity author, even before he wrote his most famous story of all: A Christmas Carol. But even though he was a famous and popular author, he fought with his publisher about publication of the novella. He ended up financing the publication at his own expense—and he didn't stint, using “lavish” binding, gilt edging, and hand-colored illustrations. He set the selling price low enough so that everyone could afford it. And then (surprise, surprise) he ended up getting a lot less profit than he needed or wanted from the project.

Still, although the money from publishing his book was disappointing, A Christmas Carol was a success in every other way. The book's first printing was on this date in 1843, and in just a few days the 6,000 printed copies sold out. Critics loved it, and the buying public loved it, and by May of the following year, a seventh edition had sold out.

The book has never been out of print since, and it has been adapted to film, stage, radio, television, and other media many times over. 

It has been translated into nearly every language. 

It has been Muppetized, Disneyfied, and even Flintstoned; it has been parodied, prequeled, and sequeled; it has been made into a musical and a ballet and even an opera.

By the way, would it surprise you to know that Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in just six weeks?

Reinventing Christmas...

Dickens helped change the way people saw Christmas. Before the Victorian era, Christmas celebrations among Christians were often no more than mass at church and as grand a meal with the family as one could afford. Children would get an apple or orange in their stocking as a special treat. Many businesses didn't give workers the day off—it wasn't just Scrooge who made employees work on Christmas!

But spearheaded by Dickens's novella, Christmas became more of a society-wide holiday (in countries that were predominantly Christian). It became a time of families getting together to share meals, dance, and “make merry.” It became a time of giving to the poor, and gift-giving generally moved from a New Year's thing to a Christmas thing. Christmas cards were just starting to be seen, and Christmas trees were about to jump from unknown to popular in English- speaking countries. Decorations became more elaborate.

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.

Some scholars, however, give Dickens more credit for, not just popularizing and spreading ideas, but creating ideas in the first place. Ronald Hutton and others say that Charles Dickens “single-handedly invented the modern form of the holiday.” People were moved by the story to give money to poor people and to crippled children. A factory owner in the United States was so moved that he closed his factory on Christmas Day and gave every employee a turkey—and this practice spread.

Of course, A Christmas Carol also gave us “Bah, humbug!”

Enjoy watching or reading one of the many versions of A Christmas Carol. Here is one. 

Also on this date:

Anniversary of first successful airplane flight

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