“Bah,” said Scrooge. “Humbug.”
There have been several commemorative events this year to mark the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens, born in February 1812. He created some of the world’s most memorable fictional characters, and his tales about the often bleak life of Victorian Londoners continue to be as popular as ever. Great Expectations has recently been adapted for the screen for what feels like the hundredth time, and yet we still can’t get enough. His obituary in The Times stated that “There are clever writers enough, but no one who will take the place, literary and social, that belonged to him.”
Dickens influence on the way we celebrate Christmas may be his biggest legacy, as he transcribed the Victorian resurgance of Christmas into his work. The image of the family at the heart of celebrations, even in difficult times, playing games, serving up a Christmas feast, the “Christmas pudding singing in the copper,” are all things we can and do relate to.
Christmas features in a number of his works, but the most famous must undoubtedly be A Christmas Carol. Phrases like Bah humbug, God bless us every one, and even the word Scrooge now being used as a term to describe someone who might not be full of Christmas cheer, have become part of our vocabulary. Being able to enjoy the festive season even in times of hardship, as the Cratchit family do, is as relevant today as it ever was. The book is bursting with Dickens empathy for the children he saw living and working in appalling conditions, not to mention his own less than perfect childhood experiences. The over exaggerated nature of Scrooge’s hatred of Christmas and everything it stands for helps to draw the reader in, wondering whether such a man could ever change his opinion and look to care for those less fortunate than he.
“If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”
The story was adapted for the stage almost immediately after its publication, has been made for the screen more times than any of his other works, and has been parodied more times than could possibly be counted. That core story of a man shown the error of his ways by looking into his past, present and future deeds translates perfectly to the world of 2012, even 170 years after it was first published.
“I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy new year to all the world!”