If you celebrate Christmas, your celebration probably owes a lot to an English novella written more than 170 years ago. Since it was first published, it has never been out of print, and it has been adapted countless times into plays, films, radio dramas, operas, musicals, comics, cartoons…. There are theatres that play stage adaptations of this novella every year. The Glendale Centre Theatre in California holds the record with 52 years in a row. In London you can take a tour to visit the places described in the story, and this Christmas you can watch a film at the cinema about the author of the novella and the difficulties he had in writing it. The film is titled The man who invented Christmas, and although this might sound like an exaggeration, it is safe to say that this man was instrumental in shaping modern Christmas. The man in question is Charles Dickens and the novella he wrote is A Christmas Carol.
The year was 1843. At the time, Christmas was not considered an important holiday, but something was changing. Queen Victoria had married the German Prince Albert, and they had brought from Germany the tradition of the Christmas tree. Other customs, such as the Christmas card, the exchange of presents, and the singing of carols were slowly becoming popular. Dickens felt that Christmas was the time of year when people were willing ‘to open their shut-up hearts freely’. He wanted to write a story that could touch those hearts with a specific, strong moral message. Dickens was concerned and appalled by the conditions of the British poor and especially the conditions of poor children. In order to survive, many of them had to work in factories under horrible conditions. At first, Dickens wanted to write a political pamphlet denouncing this situation, but eventually he decided to write a short novel instead, which he titled A Christmas Carol.
The power of literature
A Christmas Carol tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a rich old man who is rude, bitter and dreadfully selfish. On Christmas Eve he is visited by three ghosts who show him what a horrible person he has become and the terrible impact that his actions have had on other people. Scrooge realizes that he must change in order to save his soul and to help the people in need around him. On the following day, Christmas, he starts behaving in a generous and kind way. A Christmas Carol is a story of redemption, and it became immediately popular. Dickens had succeeded in touching the hearts of his readers. His novella delivered its moral message so well that there was an increase in charity around the country. Dickens received many letters from people who were inspired by his story. Its message has continued to affect millions of people around the world to this day.
The Christmas spirit
Dickens’s A Christmas Carol has remained popular since it was first published, and it is probably the most famous non-religious Christmas tale. It has become a cultural icon, and it is one of those stories that people know well even if they have never read it. The expression ‘Merry Christmas’ was popularized by it. The name ‘Scrooge’ ended up in dictionaries as a word describing a miser or a grumpy, unfriendly person. The story promoted the idea of associating Christmas with family gatherings, songs, games and seasonal food. But the novella’s main contribution to the celebration of Christmas was its message. Dickens himself writes in the preface of the book: “I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea […] May it haunt [my readers’] houses pleasantly.” This ‘Idea’ is that Christmas should be a time of celebration and reconciliation, a time to be generous and kind. Dickens did not invent modern Christmas, but he surely helped to define the Christmas spirit.
1) Learn more about Charles Dickens:
2) Learn more about A Christmas Carol:
3) Read the plot of A Christmas Carol on the Simple English Wikipedia page:
4) Browse this website about Charles Dickens and his writing:
5) Read about the Christmas Carol Walk and the story that inspired it:
1) Read the article and complete the sentences with the right alternative.
1. Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is
- a film.
- a short novel.
- a play.
2. Charles Dickens
- invented modern Christmas.
- influenced modern Christmas.
- wrote The man who invented Christmas.
3. The tradition of the Christmas tree began
- in 1843.
- in Britain.
- in Germany.
- Dickens felt that, during Christmas, people were
5. Dickens wanted to write a Christmas story to
- denounce a social injustice.
- celebrate Christmas.
- earn money for charity.
6. The three ghosts who visit Scrooge
- praise him.
- criticize him.
- give him presents.
7. At the end of A Christmas Carol Ebenezer Scrooge becomes
- a ghost.
- rude and bitter.
- a better person.
8. Considering Dickens’s objective, A Christmas Carol was
- a failure.
- a success.
- a disappointment.
9. Before A Christmas Carol the term ‘Scrooge’
- meant an old miser.
- could be found in dictionaries.
- could not be found in dictionaries.
10. The novella helped to associate Christmas with
- the Christmas tree.
- celebrations and seasonal food.
2) Complete the sentences with the following words. Put the verbs and nouns in the right form, if necessary.
novella * appalled * miser * countless * to deliver * pamphlet * to endeavour * to haunt * instrumental * to owe
1. He’s a ______: he’s stingy and in love with his money.
2. It’s my favourite film – I’ve seen it ______ times.
3. That castle is ______ by ghosts.
4. I am ______ by the horrors of war.
5. This informative ______ tells you all you need to know about this historic building.
6. The manuscript of A Christmas Carol was ______ to the publisher just a few days before Christmas.
7. A short novel is called a ______.
8. She ______ to teach good manners to her naughty children.
9. Interesting characters are ______ in making a novel successful.
10. Why did you treat me like that? You ______ me an explanation!
GRAMMAR – Indefinite determiners
3) Choose the correct indefinite determiner (some, any, no) to complete the following sentences.
1. There is ______ truth in saying that Dickens is ‘the man who changed Christmas.’
2. Dickens wrote ______ of the world’s most famous novels.
3. Have you read ______ of Dickens’s novels?
4. Dickens wanted to help people who had ______ money.
5. Dickens felt that a lot of rich people, like Scrooge, had ______ mercy for the poor.
6. There aren’t ______ copies of A Christmas Carol at the library.
7. Would you like ______ Christmas pudding?
8. Could I have ______ mulled wine?
9. I don’t have ______ stamps for my Christmas cards!
10. Are there ______ tickets left? I really want to see this play.
4) How do you celebrate Christmas? Which is your favourite Christmas tradition? (60-80 words)
5) Did you ever do any good deeds for Christmas? Describe. (60-80 words)