Olga's Blog

The Christmas of Charles Dickens

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England is boasting one of the most spectacular of all millennium celebrations, with Greenwich as the main focal point. But before the millennium there is Christmas, the last one of this century. Celebrating Christmas in London instantly brings to mind (my mind, at least) the perennial story of the holiday--A Christmas Carol. It is my favorite Christmas story, and I see at least two versions of the movie several times each holiday season. So I am devoting this article to Charles Dickens and his wonderful tale of forgiveness and redemption.

Charles Dickens has done more for the spirit of Christmas than probably anyone else in modern American or British history. Celebrating Christmas was in decline at the turn of the last century. Indeed, people were still recovering from the brutal hand of Puritan Oliver Cromwell who forbid virtually anything that made people happy and brought joy into their life. The Industrial Revolution had created a modern but harsher world, leaving the working class little time to celebrate Christmas. Dickens loved Christmas, and his stories helped rekindle the Christmas passion both in his homeland and overseas in America. While he wrote several Christmas stories, the most famous and best loved is A Christmas Carol, which he wrote in a six week period in 1843.

Like all of his books, A Christmas Carol reflects the sharp class differences in Victorian society, and especially, the harsh life of the poor and underprivileged. Dickens never forgot the period of his life when he was twelve and his father was sent to debtor’s prison. He was sent to work in a factory, and even though he was eventually able to go to school, the experience haunted him for the rest of his life. The plight of the poor, the unrelenting misery of their lives and the inequality of the class system was a consistent theme in all of his books, including a Christmas Carol.

Dickens became a great humanitarian, speaking publicly about it in addition to his writing. He was already a popular author when he penned his little book that would bring him so much fame. A Christmas Carol certainly helped revive Christmas traditions, but he also had the help of Prince Albert, the German husband of Queen Victoria. Albert brought to the English court the German custom of decorating an evergreen tree and the singing of carols. The first Christmas cards also appeared during the Victorian era.

You can trace Dickens in London, and walk in the steps of Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit and Mr. Scrooge. The Dickens House at 48 Doughty Street is still there, and even though he only resided here for a short time (between April 1837 - December 1839), it was here that he finished the Pickwick Papers and wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. This house is now a museum and the worldwide headquarters of the Dickens Fellowship. Camden Town, the area where Bob Cratchit lived, was the Dickens home for part of his childhood. His original house is long gone, though.

Dickens is buried in Westminster Abbey, in the poet's corner. You can go to visit his final resting place.

He never said where Mr. Scrooge lived, or where his counting house was located. But walk through some of the old streets and let your imagination run wild.

Have a merry Christmas, wherever you decide to spend it.

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