Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bah Humbug! The Importance of Christmas Stories?

How did A Christmas Carol evolve into a classic -- and why does it still emotionally touch thousands every year?
Of all the Christmas stories, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is undoubtedly second only to the Nativity story in terms of historical and literary significance. Ever since its publication, readers have returned to this story in droves, finding comfort and joy in the story of the miser Ebenezer Scrooge and his conversion to the fullness of Christmas joy through the Christmas spirits of the Past, Present, and Future.
A Christmas Carol is so famous that the word "scrooge" has come to define a miser or killjoy even in non-English speaking countries. Rarely do Christmas stories reach so far and have such a significant impact. An interesting note is that people seem more interested in the pre-conversion Scrooge. Most of the novel tells of his transformation, but the word is never used in that sense in popular language.
"Ebenezer" is actually a Hebrew name which literally translates to "stone of help." Many people have interpreted the name in different ways, and legends abound as to where Dickens gathered the surname Scrooge -- including the notion that he misread the word "meal" for "mean" on a tombstone and stole the man's name.
Like many Christmas stories, A Christmas Carol has themes far beyond that of Christmas. Dickens was extremely concerned with the social and economic status of the poor in his time. In fact, a famous legend tells of Dickens challenging a doctor to walk through the poorest district of London without becoming ill. The man laughingly took the dare and wound up making it ten feet.
When we think of Victorian times, we don't realize the incredible poverty hidden behind the upper and middle class veneer. Many Victorians also preferred to sweep those individuals under the carpet, and Dickens used Scrooge as an embodiment of that attitude.
It doesn't take much effort to see the importance of A Christmas Carol as a literary work -- after all, it has influenced countless spin-offs, parodies, and tributes -- but even a quick reading also reveals the social and historical significance of this most famous of Christmas stories.
Years to Come
It seems clear that Dickens' immortal tale won't be going anywhere fast. Already there have been dozens of film, television, and stage interpretations, and more are scheduled for the near future. So never fear. This most beloved of Christmas stories looks like it's here to stay!