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Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: A Great Story That Can Make a Great Holiday Tradition

Updated on December 15, 2012
Scrooge meets the Ghost of Christmas Present
Scrooge meets the Ghost of Christmas Present

“Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Jacob Marley, and lifting his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.”

By the time the jolly Ghost of Christmas Present disappears, leaving Scrooge alone in the darkness, and the eerie Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come arrives, you can’t put down this book. Charles Dickens’ brief tale, A Christmas Carol, compels you to read on.

Dickens’ masterpiece has thrilled and captivated generations, especially around Christmastime, since 1843.

The story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s complete transformation from an overly exacting, cruel taskmaster into a humane, caring businessman and citizen edifies readers and hearers at the season of the year in which we more abundantly hear “joy” and “peace” and, like an expectant child on Christmas morning, crack open our hearts a tad more to believe them.

In this sublime tale, we meet an assortment of Dickensian characters: the long-suffering clerk Bob Cratchit and the Cratchit family, including the affecting Tiny Tim; Scrooge’s good-humored nephew Fred, his wife, and their friends; old Mr. Fezziwig, the generous, kind master who apprenticed Scrooge and set a long forgotten, benevolent example of an employer; Belle, once Scrooge’s true love eventually displaced by “another Idol,” gold; Scrooge’s departed sister Fan; and, of course, his dead business partner Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come, along with the main character, Scrooge himself.

A Christmas Carol takes us into the bitter cold of 19th century London — cold from the winter and cold in Scrooge’s heart. It carries us within just a few hours’ period of one man’s life to glimpse his past, present, and future. It exposes the goodness and ill within life’s confines, as well as the consequences of one’s choices in life. It declares, in Marley’s words, “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business” — and ours. And, perhaps most importantly, it reminds us that even the darkest human heart can be reclaimed.

Starting a New Tradition

While it’s easy to click on the TV and take in a variety of Christmas specials and classic movies, reading aloud to your family, especially to younger children and grandchildren, can be a wonderful, endearing holiday tradition. I nominate A Christmas Carol as one of the selections for you to consider.

This work presents a few challenges, but also great opportunities. I have no doubt that you’re up for the task. And this endearing story alone is well worth the effort.

The Challenges

  • A Christmas Carol is longer, over 100 pages, so you have to give an extra effort to keep listeners’ attention. You won’t finish it in a few minutes, as with the lovely verses of “The Night Before Christmas” or the biblical account of the first Christmas in Luke, chapter two. It’s more like reading The Chronicles of Narnia or another longer work. Set your hearers’ expectations to engage in a longer story. Picking a time of day when younger listeners are more subdued, such as the evening, may help as a strategy.
  • The vocabulary and writing style of Dickens may take some getting used to, especially when reading it aloud. Be prepared for longer, more complex sentence structure and a much richer vocabulary than typical modern fare. But the mid-19th century English conventions for punctuation can help you pace your reading and catch breaths at right spots.
  • It starts much differently than books written in our era. Dickens begins the story with, “Marley was dead, to begin with.” A modern author might arrest readers’ attention by immediately having the ghost of Jacob Marley terrify Scrooge. But Dickens uses the conventions of setting the stage, introducing central characters, and taking several pages to get to the ghoulish meeting, where Marley foretells the visitations of three ghosts, if Scrooge is to have any “hope of escaping my [Marley’s] fate.” You have to go with it and build your listeners’ interest.

The Opportunities

  • One of the downsides of our high-tech, multimedia society is the shortening of our attention spans. Reading a work like A Christmas Carol aloud can help you and your listeners to re-energize good listening habits and improve the ability to concentrate.
  • Reading A Christmas Carol, whether as a yearly Christmas tradition or a sometime event, creates warm memories that your young hearers will treasure for the rest of their lives. You can be the giver of a priceless gift that will enrich the listeners in countless ways.
  • Talk about spending “quality time!” The TV’s off and you’re the entertainment medium. Having the (mostly) undivided attention of this sometimes challenging audience will energize you and make your heart leap, just as Scrooge’s heart did when he visited shades of his own joyous Christmases past in the company of Fezziwig and of Christmases present in seeing the self-denied food and fun and games he’s missed in the home of his nephew and niece by marriage.
  • A Christmas Carol lets you launch a sneak-attack grammar lesson. The rich vocabulary, the vivid descriptions, the crafting of the story line all amount to a model of superior writing. Dickens stands among those whose works set the literary gold standard. Learning from them can be fun! Just don’t announce it as such.

Any time of year can be good for reading about how Ebenezer Scrooge went from “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner” to “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew.” Whether you read A Christmas Carol on a crisp, bone-chilling, wintry December eve or a languid, sultry, steaming midsummer afternoon as a diversion from the relentless heat, this book will bring you and your family many happy times.

Get a copy of A Christmas Carol

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