Why Did Charles Dickens Write A Christmas Carol?

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  • 0:04 'A Christmas Carol'
  • 0:42 Historical Traditions
  • 1:16 Nostalgia
  • 1:52 Social Commentary
  • 3:04 Financial Need
  • 3:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Leslie McMurtry
Charles Dickens was a prolific novelist as well as a journalist dedicated to social reform. In this lesson, we'll explore some of the reasons he wrote 'A Christmas Carol,' including those related to his personal life and social reform.

A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens, who lived from 1812-1870, wrote five Christmas books, of which A Christmas Carol was the first. A Christmas Carol was written in 1843 and had a major influence on our idea of an old-fashioned English Christmas. Although highly moral in tone, A Christmas Carol helped to make the holiday a more child-centered, secular celebration; a move away from a purely religious concept of Christmas. Dickens's novella also provides us with a vivid picture of the extreme cold and snow found in London streets in late December as we join the Christmas ghosts who visit Ebenezer Scrooge.

Historical Traditions

Although Charles Dickens was a major influence on the way the later Victorians came to celebrate Christmas, when the author was young, it was unfashionable to celebrate the holiday. Instead, the emphasis was on Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, which takes place on January 6th. In the 1830s, the number of people observing Christmas in England was relatively small, but those who did were impassioned in their celebrations. While observances differed among religious denominations and geographical regions, Christmas was typically celebrated with large family gatherings enlivened by the drinking of wassail, a festive alcohol.


In the early 1840s, Dickens was an established journalist and an up-and-coming novelist. A Christmas Carol was inspired in part by childhood reminiscences from they years 1812 through 1820, among the coldest of the century, and his father's memories of the aristocratic Crewe Hall where he lived as a boy. The author's images of opulent festive celebrations must be seen as examples of nostalgia due to the fact that they celebrate the happy parts of Dickens's childhood. He would not reveal the sadder autobiographical aspects of his life until David Copperfield in 1850 and Little Dorrit in 1856.

Social Commentary

Oliver Twist established Dickens as a writer with a social conscience, and he used the story of A Christmas Carol to depict the plight of the poor in England. The 1840s were known as the Hungry Forties, a period of economic depression in Great Britain whereby bad harvests led to high food prices that caused widespread poverty among the urban poor.

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