Dickens Didn’t ‘Invent’ Christmas. But Here Are Three Ways He Changed It.

From the trailer of The Man Who Invented Christmas, courtesy Bleecker Street.
From the trailer of The Man Who Invented Christmas, courtesy Bleecker Street.

Christmas Past: Nostalgia and youth. Dickens spends an awful lot of time exploring Scrooge’s youth, when old Ebenezer was poorer, happier and full of something we dare call joy. He whoops it up at a Christmas dance. He falls in love. But as he grew older, Scrooge’s heart grew colder. “The cold within him froze his old features, nipped as his pointed nose, Shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait,” Dickens writes, and goes on from there. Scrooge is old—physically and spiritually. It’s almost as if age robbed him of something critically important—critically vibrant.

When Scrooge transforms into a better man, it’s as if he reverts back to his happier days—rediscovering a childlike joy.  He even suggests so himself: “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I  am as giddy as a drunken man,” he says.

Dickens loved kids. They’re the stars of some of his most popular books, and he has plenty of kids in A Christmas Carol, too. The movie suggests that Dickens’ concern and empathy for children stems from his own unhappy childhood, and he knew better than most how childhood experiences can change us. But he also believed that we can best see the magic of Christmas through a child’s innocent, joyful eyes.

“For it is good to be children sometimes,” Dickens writes, “and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.”

And so Christmas has become, for all of us, a child’s holiday. It’s full of lights and glitter, presents and candy. Most of our own Christmas memories are inescapably tied to our own childhoods—making cookies with grandma, maybe, or decorating the family tree—and we pass those traditions on through the generations, often in our hopes that our children will love them as much as we did.

But we also hope that, during the season, we become a little more childlike ourselves—to experience the wonder of the season the way we did when we were 7 years old. Or like Scrooge did that fateful morning when he woke up a changed man.

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