Christmas 1843 – The Gift That Keeps on Giving
“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
A great deal of history occurred in the year, 1843. On January 2nd, Wagner’s opera, “Der Fliegende Holländer” premiered in Dresden. On May 4th, Great Britain annexed Natal. May 22nd, the first wagon train departed from Independence Missouri for Oregon. On July 2nd, newspapers reported that an alligator plummeted to earth during a thunderstorm in Charleston, South Carolina. August 15th, the Tivoli Park opened in Copenhagen. August 25th the typewriter was patented by Charles Thurber. November 13th saw the eruption of Mt Rainier in Washington State. November 28th, Great Britain and France officially recognized Hawaii as an independent nation. What happened on these dates changed our world and the lives of many who were involved these events. (although I really wonder about the alligator story even though it has been recorded by several reputable sources).
There is one day that stands out in particular: December 19, 1843. That was the day when Christmas was given a gift that continues to keep on giving. “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens was published in London by Chapman and Hall. To be clear, others had written stories and poems about Christmas, but “A Christmas Carol” was different; for in those marvelous staves, Charles Dickens spoke to the heart of poverty, despair and the plight of young children. Best of all, he offered redemption to a world longing for fairness and compassion.
“For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.” Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens wrote from bitter experience. In 1824, when only 12 years old, he saw his father, along with his mother and young siblings, incarcerated in the dreaded Marshalsea Prison for debt to a baker. To support his family and pay for his lodgings, Charles left school to work 10-hour days in a boot-blacking factory. Outside of work without the benefit of family, he roamed the street, exposed to danger and exploitation. These traumatic events left an indelible influence that would later be validated in his brilliant characters and narratives. The strength and endurance of his message was embedded within the struggles of ordinary people.
“This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!” “Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge. “Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?” Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol changed the conversation by allowing readers to see a different pathway – one that allowed for transformations rather than defeat and despair. If a greedy, unfeeling miser could be changed into a “a good friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew…” then it was possible to vanquish the horror of poverty and injustice.
As we celebrate this holiday season, may we seek hopeful outcomes and look for conversations that allow us to envision life-affirming and joyful possibilities. May we join Ebenezer Scrooge in saying:
“I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!” Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol