No one piece of literature has made such an impact on the holiday season than Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Originally published in 1843, the story has never been out of print and has remained popular for over 175 years!
Adaptations are rampant, and we can easily assume streaming across screened devices as we nestle in to weather the season with familiar misers and ghosts – from Michael Caine in The Muppet Christmas Carol to Bill Murray in Scrooged. Resounding calls of ‘Bah Humbug’ and ‘God Bless us everyone’ ring through the season, Dicken’s phrases solidly engrained in Christmas traditions.
A Christmas Carol, in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, by Charles Dickens (February 7, 1812, – June 9, 1870) was first released on December 19, 1843. The novella sold out almost immediately, with the publisher returning to press no fewer than eight times within the first six months.
The popularity of A Christmas Carol was evident as soon as it was published. Dickens had established himself as a popular writer in English with the publication of The Pickwick Papers in the 1830s and he went on to write dozens of follow-up Christmas tales over the next 25 years.
Of these, the quintessential “Christmas Books” were the five novellas Dickens wrote in the 1840s, including A Christmas Carol, all of which had strong moral and social messages.
The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In (Christmas 1844)
The first story released after A Christmas Carol was The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In (Christmas 1844)
In this tale, a poor old ‘ticket-porter’ named Trotty is filled with gloom and feels there is no hope for mankind. One night he wanders to the church, called by the bells, and finds goblin attendants who reprimand him for losing faith in his fellow man and proceed to show him a series of visions of what life is like for those he loves after his death. Chapman and Hall published the first edition in 1845.
The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home (Christmas 1845)
The following year Dickens released The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home (Christmas 1845). The book was released on 20 December 1845, although the title page stated “First edition Bradbury and Evans, 1846.” It was almost as popular as A Christmas Carol upon release.
In this imaginative tale, there is a cricket on the hearth of the Peerybingle family who acts as a guardian angel and ‘chirps’ to divide this novella into chapters.
The Battle of Life: A Love Story (Christmas 1846)
The fourth of ‘The Christmas Stories’ was The Battle of Life: A Love Story, published around Christmas 1846.
The Battle of Life is a story of two sisters and an elaborate elopement scheme. Unlike the ‘Christmas Books,’ it does not include supernatural or religious elements and it is not particularly centered around Christmas.
The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain: A Fancy for Christmas-Time (Christmas 1848)
The last of ‘The Christmas Stories’ from Dickens is The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain: A Fancy for Christmas-Time, published in Christmas 1848.
In this tale, Professor Redlaw harbors hurt and grief from his past. He is visited by a spirit that will allow him to forget the past, but without his memory, he becomes overcome with anger. Dickens is rather heavy-handed in this moral lesson about how it’s better to forgive than forget.
The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain was first published by Bradbury and Evans, Dec 19 1848.
In 1849, John Wiley released a collection of four CHRISTMAS STORIES: consisting of A Carol, The Chimes, The Cricket, and Battle of Life.
Chapman and Hall, London also published The Christmas Carol in 1943, including four other Christmas Books by Dickens (The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life, The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain). Easton Press has also released a few collector’s editions of The Christmas Stories
Following on the heels of these five standalone books, Dickens took a new approach to holiday storytelling. He began to write and edit special Christmas-themed issues of Household Words, a twopenny journal he launched in 1850. For each “Christmas number” of Household Words, Dickens collaborated with other prominent writers including Wilkie Collins and Elizabeth Gaskell. Through these tales, Dickens as author and editor continued to explore the themes we still associate with Christmas storytelling: the comfort of memory, the role of traditions and rituals, the invaluable presence of family and friends, and the power of generosity and goodwill.
You can find multiple bound editions of these early stories from Household Words, such as What Christmas Is (1851), The Poor Relation’s Story (1852), The Schoolboy’s Story (1853), The Seven Poor Travellers (1854), The Holly-Tree Inn (1855), A House to Let (1858), The Haunted House (1859), A Message from the Sea (1860), and Somebody’s Luggage (1862)
Charles Dickens and His Christmas Stories: by Jessica Pigza, NYPL
Amy C. Manikowski is a writer living in Asheville, NC.