Charles Dickens’ Carol for Christmases Past, Present, and Future

‘Tis the night before Christmas! All through the Press, we’re celebrating a timeless English author, Charles Dickens, and his famous novella, A Christmas Carol.

Though we are lovers of literature, the book’s legacy stretches far further than the pages of the original text. Names and phrases from the work have entered the English lexicon. Many are familiar with the idea of a miserly “Scrooge” or the dismissive cry of “Bah, humbug!” from the less-festive, for example. Additionally, A Christmas Carol has spawned dozens of adaptations since its publication, spanning nearly every medium and genre—theatrical films, Broadway musicals sit alongside works like The Muppet Christmas Carol. 

In fact, Charles Dickens himself was the first to present the book in a different format. A hit among both British and American readers, he went on book tours in both areas, as Bruce David Forbes recounts in America’s Favorite Holidays.


“When [Dickens] wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843, the first 6,000 copies of the book sold quickly. He gave dramatic public readings of his story to overflowing crowds and sales of the book soared. . . drawing crowds the way rock stars do today. In Boston, 10,000 tickets were sold weeks before his appearance, and in New York, 150 people stood in the cold all night long to get tickets.”

Frontispiece and title page of the first edition of A Christmas Carol, 1843.
Frontispiece and title page of the first edition of A Christmas Carol, 1843.

A Christmas Carol‘s critical acclaim also played a key role in reviving many of England’s Christmas traditions and ensuring the prominence of the holiday in American culture. Dickens, of course, made certain that his book promoted what he envisioned as the Christmas ideal—which included both the kind and giving “Christmas spirit” and a wider acceptance of winter vacations:

A portrait of Dickens in 1842 (Francis Alexander).
Charles Dickens in 1842.

“Today, in the United States, the vast majority of businesses are closed, more than at most other times of the year. Thus when Scrooge only grudgingly allowed his clerk to have Christmas Day off, we judge him as particularly insensitive. But in Dickens’s time many businesses remained open on Christmas Day, something that the Puritans had pushed for more than a century earlier.”

“Scrooge’s earlier preference to work through Christmas Day seems more cruel to us now, with our cultural assumptions, than it would have been to Dickens’s contemporaries. In writing his story, Dickens was an advocate in the controversies of his day, encouraging the revival or reinvention of Christmas traditions, persuading businesses to close for the holiday, and promoting acts of kindness and charity as an appropriate focus. This is why he wanted Scrooge to look unsympathetic when he insisted on working on Christmas Day, and that is why he wanted Scrooge to change his heart, because he wanted England to do the same thing.”

Truly, the book’s influence has been as broad as it is lasting!

From all of us at the University of California Press, we wish you and your loved ones a safe and joyful holiday season.