n his wonderful 2008 book The Man Who Invented Christmas , Les Standiford reveals how the triumphant success of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in 1843 placed December 25 at the center of Anglo-American bourgeois life. Before A Christmas Carol, according to Standiford, “the holiday was a relatively minor affair that ranked far below Easter,” which is understandable, once you think about it, since Easter commemorates the unsurpassed miracle of the resurrection. Indeed, he says, the Anglican church felt that the enterprise “smacked vaguely of paganism.” The Puritans believed this, too. The Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a law in 1659 that “forbade the practice and levied a fine of five shillings upon anyone caught in the act.”
By John Podhoretz
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And so “there were no Christmas cards in 1843 England, no Christmas trees at royal residences or White Houses, no Christmas turkeys,” Standiford writes, “no outpouring of ‘Yuletide greetings,’ no weeklong cessation of business affairs through the New Year, no overblown gift-giving, no ubiquitous public display of nativity scenes (or court fights regarding them), and no plethora of midnight services celebrating the birth of a savior.” But there was a tradition of decorating for the holiday, and the playing of games and the staging of amateur theatricals on Christmas Day. And these were things Dickens loved as a child and summoned into his art as an adult.
Christmas he may have loved, but evidently the Christ part of it was entirely secondary to Dickens. The words “Jesus” and “Christ” and “savior” appear nowhere in A Christmas Carol. Certainly, following a night in which he is visited not by figures out of Christian eschatology but by three ghosts, the transformed Ebenezer Scrooge shows every possible wonderful quality besides piety. Dickens does say in an aside that Scrooge “went to church,” but does so in a sentence that goes on to portray his time in the pew as just one element of a morning in which he walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and
HOWDICKENS AND POP CULTURE GAVE US THE CHRISTMAS WE KNOWTODAY
American Consequences 27
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