Everybody knows the tale of Ebenezer Scrouge. Tiny Tim, the Cratchit family, and the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. They have been woven into Christmas lore since the book’s introduction in 1843. But what created these memorable characters, resting on the shoulders of English author Charles Dickens’s whimsical prose, is much more fact than fiction. And for very good reason, A Christmas Carol has lasted throughout the generations, while other Christmas stories have come and gone with the season. It was one of many that Dickens produced in the holiday spirit, but the only one that has been reiterated and reimagined to such a degree—reprinted and reproduced in nearly every media form, including a video game! Over 100 full-length movies have been made in the novella’s image. The first was an early short film shot in 1908. The desperation and plight of the Crachit family have resonated with families deeply for nearly two centuries. Their restitute situation was associable for many in 1840’s England. Child labor and industrialization were at their peak, and injustices were all about. Dive into this Christmas classic with us as part of our “25 Days Of Christmas” coverage.
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A Christmas Carol
For those unfamiliar, which, as previously stated, is unlikely, A Christmas Carol is a novella written and published by Charles Dickens in 1843. It revolves around the poor and overworked Cratchit family, their son, Tiny Tim, and Bob Cratchit’s boss, the greedy Ebenezer Scrouge. Tiny Tim has little time to live and walks with a crutch due to a mysterious illness, likely rickets, tuberculosis, or quite possibly both. One night, after refusing to pay for heating in Bob Cratchit’s office, Cratchit works as Scourge’s clerk, and the stingy business owner is visited by a spirit named Marley. Marley is wrapped in chains and forced to wander the land in such conditions due to the greedy actions he committed in life. He warns Scrouge that three spirits will visit him. The spirits of Christmas past, present, and future visit Scrouge and show him the error of his ways. This includes a peak into the life of the Cratchits. He witnesses their meager meal, how cold they are in their unheated house, and the sickly Tiny Tim. Who is bringing holiday cheer and hope to the family, despite his terminal illness. After witnessing these horrid living conditions and, thanks to the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, the fate of his wealth, he turns his cheek. Christmas morning comes, and Scrouge rewards the Cratchits with a large turkey. For the rest of his years spreads generosity and kindness throughout the city.
This tale of a man, once calloused to the needs and wants of others, then reborn full of grace, was inspired by the real-time events of Dickens’ life. The 1840s were known as The Hungry ’40s in Industrial England. Dickens was born in 1812. Between then and the publication of A Christmas Carol, the population of England increased by an astonishing sixty-four percent. The cottages and farmlands of the English countryside were being abandoned for the booming factories of the cities. Profit was king, and workers became mere tools, not people. Dickens himself worked in a factory at age 11, experiencing the harsh brutalities of child labor.
Child Labor In The Hungry ’40s
Within the inner cities, the workforce of England and other industrialized nations dramatically increased in the early to mid-1800s. Technological advances in textiles, such as the steam-engined cotton mill, skyrocketed Great Britain’s production capabilities and population. With this increase in population, a steep spike in the number of children around followed, similar to the Baby Boom in America after World War 2. Children from poorer families were generally uneducated and worked to support their families. It was considered good for a child to work at that time. No rights were available to the youth of Britain until 1833 and 1842, when the Factory Act and Mining Act were passed. They were seen as tools by the factory owners and were put to work as such. Children performed monotonous tasks such as repeatedly hammering nails into the same product as young as 4 or 5.
Compounding this was the lack of knowledge or interest in how people distributed wealth. Poor people were seen as lazy. If they were left to their own means, they would only cause mischief and crime. In addition, feeding them would only increase their population, thus creating more dangerous problems for the institution. Such ideas and tactics that prevent power in the hands of the poor are not too far off from what is seen today. Low wages, hardly enough to heat their own homes or feed their families, were the norm. Families such as the Cratchits were not some illusionary image pulled from Dickens’ imagination but the product of decades of social injustices and neglect across the country.
Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol after speaking at a fundraiser at the Manchester Athenaeum. It was an event meant to raise awareness and funds for working-class rights. He was a man that sincerely believed in these issues and found a medium in which to portray them. A mere six weeks after the speaking event, the well-established author produced his most endearing legacy. Mixing elements of yule lore, such as the appearance of ghosts, with the social problem he saw around him. At a time when people nationwide took a break from earning their daily bread, he convinced them that there were many without it. By 1878 another Factory Act was passed stating that no children under the age of 10 could work. In 1880 the Education Act followed. Requiring all children to be in school by the age of 12. It is important works of literature like A Christmas Carol that help sustain these social movements and bring joy to us all. Isn’t that what the holidays are all about? To continue learning about the true meaning of Christmas, pagan rituals, and all, continue reading US Ghost Adventures’ “25 Days of Christmas!” Happy Holidays, Yuletide, Christe Masse, and a blessed Winter Equinox.
Featured Image Source: Public Domain Pictures