How Christmas “as we know it” came to be | Editorial

At the Sounder, we are well aware of the powers of the pen.  So it came as no surprise to learn that Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” was one of the major influences that has instilled the idea of Christmas as a celebration of family and friends in addition to a a religious day.

John Jordans, who heads the Dickens project at UC Santa Cruz said in a NPR radio show several years ago that “the Cratchit family or Scrooge’s nephew are models for how to hold a one-day family celebration with the goose or the turkey or whatever.”

“A Christmas Carol” was published just before Christmas on Dec. 17 in 1843. Despite selling out in just three days, Dickens made just £130 profit, according to an article in “The Telegraph.” In 1853, 10 years after the book’s publication, Dickens began performing readings and was known as a great actor bringing each character to life.

Due to the popularity of the tale, Dickens was also asked to write Christmas stories almost every year up until 1857. It’s amazing that now 143 years after Dickens’s death and 170 years after “A Christmas Carol” was published the story lives on.

There have been opera and ballet versions, a musical called “Comin’ Uptown” in 1979, and even a 1973 mime adaptation for the BBC starring Marcel Marceau.  “A Christmas Carol” has been adapted to film more than 200 times and has even been adapted into a muppets’ movie.

So what is the lesson that Dickens left with us? As we celebrate Christmas it’s a time to remember that Dickens’ notion of the holiday was not the dread of family feuds, bright lights on our eaves, loads of presents or even decorating a tree, but a story of redemption, love and the meaning of life. Dickens’ book is not only a way to celebrate Christmas, but a way to reflect on your purpose in this life. With that we at the Sounder wish you a Merry Christmas and a life of good cheer.

A short history of winter celebrations

Compiled from

Centuries before the arrival of Jesus, early Europeans celebrated the winter solstice. In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from December 21, the winter solstice, through January. The tradition involved fathers and sons bringing home large logs to burn. People would celebrate and feast until the log burned out.

In Germany, the god Oden was honored during the mid-winter. He was a terrifying god who would decide who would perish or prosper as he flew over the sky at night.

The Romans celebrated the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month. It was a time when food and drink were plentiful and the normal Roman social order was turned upside down. For a month, slaves would become masters and peasants ran the city.