What was Christmas really like for Charles Dickens?

From visions of snowy London streets to telling ghost stories around the fireside, Stephen Jarvis, author of Death and Mr Pickwick, explores what Christmas was like for Charles Dickens and how it came to influence festive traditions today. 

The man who invented Christmas?

Some years ago, I spoke to the curator of the Dickens Museum, who told me that as Christmas approached, he would always be phoned up by journalists who wanted to talk about A Christmas Carol’s influence on the modern celebrations of the season. These journalists would know that, prior to Dickens, newspapers often didn’t even mention Christmas. And almost without fail, the journalists would comment: “So, you could say that Dickens was the man who created Christmas, couldn’t you?” It was as though every aspect of the season – turkeys, mince pies, mistletoe, present-giving and overall merriment - was down to good old Charlie’s portrayal of Scrooge’s spiritual transformation.

The trouble is, the idea of Dickens as ‘The man who created Christmas’ simply isn’t true. It would be more accurate to say that after A Christmas Carol, celebrating Christmas became fashionable, among all classes, and this is why newspapers started to publicise Christmas. But in rural areas, and among the working class, Christmas had been celebrated long before Dickens came along, and although some commentators had spoken of Christmas being in decline, there were still strong traditions of seasonal celebration.

Christmas for Charles Dickens

Insofar as Dickens could be said to have ‘created’ any part of Christmas, it would be that festival’s traditional association with snow

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