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

Christopher Plummer from \the trailer of The Man Who Invented Christmas, courtesy Bleecker Street.
Christopher Plummer from the trailer of The Man Who Invented Christmas, courtesy Bleecker Street.

Christmas Future: Transformation. Ever since the Church began celebrating Christ’s birthday on Dec. 25—just days after the Winter Solstice—the metaphor of light coming into a dark, dark world has been essential to our understanding of the holy day.

We see that echoed in Scrooge.

“Darkness was cheap, and Scrooge liked it,” Dickens writes. Scrooge was so stingy with coal that his longsuffering worker-bee, Bob Cratchit, would try to warm himself by a candle. The story opens on a particularly foggy, dark and bitterly cold night—a scene that reflects Scrooge’s own nature.

Contrast that darkness with Christmas morning in A Christmas Carol: Scrooge opens the window and sees “golden sunlight; Heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious. Glorious!”

The weather reflected the transformation in Scrooge’s own soul. He was a changed man.

“Some people laughed to see the alteration in him,” Dickens writes, “but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset …”

And while Dickens was not an overtly religious fellow, Scrooge’s transformation also reflects both the change that happens to us when we celebrate not just Christmas, but Christ. Scrooge’s arc, in fact, looks an awful lot like the typical Christian testimony we might hear: A terrible person hits rock-bottom, finds Jesus and his whole life is suddenly transformed.

But the message of A Christmas Carol reflects, even more profoundly, how we think of the season itself.

Throughout The Man Who Invented Christmas, we hear a constant, cynical refrain: People don’t change. Dickens’ imagined Scrooge says so himself. Initially, Dickens agrees: He can’t imagine someone as miserly and as cruel as Scrooge transforming in a single night.

But others push back on that notion. “It’s a Christmas book. Shouldn’t it be hopeful?” Dickens’ agent tells him. “Our better natures should prevail.”

And so we still hope. So we still believe. All the lights and carols and Christmas trees are physical manifestations, in a way, of that hope most of us hold that Christmastime is, somehow, magical. That we can see in the season better versions of ourselves—versions that hold Christmas past, present and future in our hearts. We’re imbued with a childlike joy. We’re more generous. We, like Scrooge, are somehow transformed.

And we hold out hope that those around us may be transformed, too. That a spouse would stop drinking. That there’d be reconciliation with an aging mother or dad. That a prodigal would come home.

We hold out hope for a Dickensian-like change; that wounds would be healed. That joy and warmth would replace the cold of winter.

Bah, you say? Humbug? Yes, perhaps it’s unrealistic to imagine that change is so easy (or so seasonal). But in A Christmas Carol, Dickens tells us that miracles can happen. Transformation sometimes comes with a golden, glorious, winter morning. And that’s not a bad hope to hold.

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