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 Present: Charity. The ghost of Christmas Present is a boisterous soul—introduced to Scrooge while sitting on a massive pile of food. He is a figure of plenty and extravagance, one that seems to support even our modern, commercialized and (dare we say) excessive Christmas celebrations of wealth.

But the jovial ghost hides a somber secret: Two emaciated children hiding under his robe. “This boy is Ignorance,” he tells Scrooge. “This girl is Want.” And when Scrooge asks if these pitiful souls might find help somewhere, Christmas Present cruelly (but justly) turns on Ebenezer with his own words. “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”

Charity is a massive theme in A Christmas Carol, with Dickens writing that Christmas is “the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” In a postscript to The Man Who Invented Christmas, we learn that charitable giving rose almost overnight after A Christmas Carol was published.

Even in our overly commercialized times, that sense of charity remains central to the holiday. Many employers give Christmas bonuses (or so I’ve heard, anyway). We give special gifts to music teachers and trash collectors. Charities and ministries rely on a spike in holiday giving to keep them afloat. In fact, about 18% of all the year’s charitable donations are made during the month of December.

Would people still be particularly generous during Christmas without A Christmas Carol? Maybe. But there’s no question that Dickens helped cement the concept of Christmastime giving.

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