This evening we have enjoyed many Christmas carols, and this year Dicken’s book, A Christmas Carol, is 175 years old.
Looking through the Radio Times there are, at least, four versions of it on TV over the next two weeks and it’s been revived at London’s Old Vic this winter with Stephen Tomkinson in the lead role.
Dickens wrote this ghost story back in 1843 in just six weeks. It was published on December 19th that year and such was its rapturous reception that it was sold out by Christmas Eve. In 1844 it was republished an astonishing thirteen times and has never been out of print since.
Of course, one reason for its runaway success was its timing We might think that carolling, Christmas Trees and family parties have always been around, but the truth is many only became firmly established early in Queen Victoria’s reign, around the exact time of the first edition of a Christmas Carol in 1843.
Claire Tomalin, Dickens’ biographer, says the story is an allegory of the Christian concept of redemption. I think it has the feel of an extended bible parable.
Scrooge’s journey, accompanied by the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future, puts him in touch with his ‘better self’.
By the end of the story he’s a changed man, now much more sympathetically aware of the world around him and ready to meet its needs with a new found spirit of generosity.
I think the unsung heroes of the book are Scrooge’s nephew and his wife, who invited him to keep Christmas with them every year. He never came yet they kept the door open and at last, after the dream that brings Scrooge redemption with that rediscovery of his better self, he accepts their invitation to Christmas lunch – once he has ensured Bob Cratchit and his family, including Tiny Tim, have a similarly good meal.
Jesus, whose birth we have celebrated this night with our own Christmas Carols, shows us God in a way we can understand. A God who us new beginnings, who helps us grow into better people aware of the needs of others as we live in meaningful community.
These themes are not just for Christmas but for every day of the forthcoming New Year, becoming for us living stories of love, justice and generosity of spirit – which just like Dickens’ masterpiece, never go out of print or fashion.