The Real Ghost of Christmas Past

Though the story of Christmas was pulled from many sources, writing for The Guardian, Kathryn Hughes reminds us that “Christmas was pulled together, codified, made visible in story and painted in sound by Dickens who dashed down A Christmas Carol in six weeks in the autumn of 1843.”

The book, published on 19 December of that year, famously tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a bitter old miser who is given a chance to redeem himself when he is visited in turn by four ghosts on Christmas Eve. As a result of their warning about what will happen if he fails to change his ways, the grasping old skinflint repents of his life-denying selfishness. Flushed with goodwill, he lavishes a delicious Christmas dinner on the family of his shabby and exploited clerk, Bob Cratchit.

Christmas at the Dickens London home on Doughty Street was a life-sized rendering of a warm and welcoming seasonal holiday.

“Christmas was always a time which in our home was looked forward to with eagerness and delight,” recalled his eldest daughter, Mamie, who was born at Doughty Street. Younger brother Henry chimed in: “My father was always at his best, a splendid host, bright and jolly as a boy and throwing his heart and soul into everything.” Guests would be offered a turkey dinner followed by a dazzling display of magic tricks courtesy of Boz himself. Dickens had only to wave his hands over a gentleman’s top hat for a steaming plum pudding to emerge; a box of bran was transformed into a live guinea pig. Even Jane Carlyle, a regular guest who could generally be counted on to say something spiky, was obliged to admit that Mr Dickens was “the best conjuror I ever saw (and I have paid money to see several)”.

But Dickens’ own childhood, dodged by poverty and darkness, influenced every aspect of his adult life, and certainly the Christmas performance he would stage each year in his home:

This disintegration of Dickens’s early family became a psychic wound that he felt compelled to heal again and again. Hence the continual, one might say compulsive, need to assert his adult domestic happiness to both friends and strangers.

Marking the anniversary of A Christmas Carol, the Charles Dickens Museum in Clerkenwell, London, “has mounted an exhibition that is replete with all the signifiers of what has become known as a “Dickensian Christmas” but which is also, simultaneously, Dickens’s Christmas.”

The full piece is here. Learn more about the Charles Dickens Museum here.

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