Like many of our visitors, you may be excited for our upcoming sold-out, solo performance of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol by Steven Méthot, a Calgary writer, storyteller and musician who performs the entire story from memory and animates the voices of all 30 characters.
What you might not be aware of is that this beloved holiday classic was just one of many books Dickens wrote in a very deliberate attempt to re-frame how British subjects thought about the Christmas season.
In 1843, Dickens returned to England after a year-long tour of the United States and Canada. Witnessing the effects of slavery strengthened Dickens’ faith in his progressive ideals, and within weeks of his return he resolved to embark on a project to “strike a sledge-hammer blow” for the poor and socially marginalized. At the time, Dickens was at the zenith of his popularity; Queen Victoria herself had publicly praised both Oliver Twist and The Pickwick Papers. Dickens was keenly aware that he had become a major social phenomenon, and that his next work would have the potential to seriously effect English society. Seizing on the recent popular revival of Christmas by the Oxford movement (a movement of Anglican ministers seeking to revive Catholic traditions), Dickens began a series of five short novels which he hoped could introduce his Progressive Humanist philosophy to a broader audience by encouraging his readers to view Christmas as synonymous with Humanist virtues such as charity, temperance and “good will towards men.” In 1843 he published the enormously popular A Christmas Carol, followed by The Chimes (1844), The Cricket on the Hearth (1845), which was more popular than both its predecessors until the 20th century, The Battle of Life (1846), and The Haunted Man and The Ghost’s Bargain (1848). All focused on Progressive themes, and all but The Battle of Life took place during the holidays.
Charles Dickens’ efforts were the opening salvo in an enormous shift in the culture of Christmas. Between 1843 and 1850, Traditions of gift-giving and other non-religious forms of celebration were gradually shifted from New Years’ Day to Christmas Day, while depictions of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their nine children celebrating Germanic Christmas traditions borrowed from Prince Albert’s Bavarian upbringing, helped to solidify a new way of celebrating Christmas in the home, as well as in the church. – Adam Sarjeant, Admissions Assistant