*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 19th of December 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
It is appropriate that we would get a Dickensian story at this time of year- and this one, well, you can’t get more Dickensian.
You might be familiar with the tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas. Or maybe not. Let me fill you in. Telling ghost stories near the winter solstice goes back farther than we can record. And as people gather around a fire, we know there is a human impulse to hear or tell scary stories. And thus, Christmas was a perfect time.
Consider the Henry James classic and super creepy ghost story “The Turn of the Screw”- it begins with people gathering around the fire on Christmas Eve to hear ghost stories. It’s what you did.
In 1843, the most famous Christmas Ghost story was published on this day. You know it as Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol- although its complete title is “A Christmas Carol In Prose Being a Ghost Story of Christmas.” And if you know the story, it makes sense.
This is the story that made Dickens a household name. He wrote the book in 6 weeks in 1843 because of his accruing debt. His father had spent time in a debtor’s prison, and Dickens could have been headed there if not for the immediate success of this book.
On the anniversary of its publishing, let me break down a few things you might want to know about the man and the story that, in a sense, invented the modern Christmas aesthetic.
POINT 1: It was controversial in some circles, exceptionally so. Today we think of it as a quaint children’s tale or a story about being nice- but this (as with so much of his work) was a scathing indictment of the class system. This industrial revolution favored the already wealthy and made the poor even poorer.
When Scrooge is first approached by the men collecting for charity, he tells them that charity is unnecessary for him to give as were already working houses for the poor. And remember, the character of Bob Cratchet isn’t poor because he’s bad. He’s a hard worker, barely making it. Dickens was criticized for making these “political” statements in his story.
POINT 2: Do you remember the Oxford movement in England? These were the high church Anglicans, who went Catholic but were all opposed to what they saw as creeping Puritanism. They wanted nothing more than a full-throated English Christmas. Combine that with the new British Evangelicals who were class conscious and wanted to fight the new urban blight. Dickens’s work, especially this famous story, would be championed by them.
A Christmas Carol and Dickens were boosted in the eyes of many Christians with the 2 volume critical reading of his works and biography written by G.K. Chesterton.
The Christmas Carol is a happy story first, because it describes an abrupt and dramatic change. It is not only the story of a conversion, but of a sudden conversion; as sudden as the conversion of a man at a Salvation Army meeting. Popular religion is quite right in insisting on the fact of a crisis in most things. It is true that the man at the Salvation Army meeting would probably be converted from the punch bowl; whereas Scrooge was converted to it. That only means that Scrooge and Dickens represented a higher and more historic Christianity.
A Christmas Carol In Prose Being a Ghost Story of Christmas is not an explicitly Christian story- but it is a story about repentance. It is a story about the best news for even the worst people. Scrooge is the prodigal son who is stuck in the mess of his wealth and greed instead of wallowing with pigs. May we see the gospel behind this famous story as we watch or read it this year.
So many versions… check the 1931 and 1958 versions. The one with Patrick Stewart is pretty good. Scrooged with Bill Murray is brilliant, and sometimes my favorite version, although I’m going to say the most fun and even faithful to the text, is the Muppet’s Christmas Carol which I will be watching with my family tonight.
On the 19th of December in 1843, Dicken’s A Christmas Carol was published for the first time.
The last word for today comes from Luke 15- part of the parable of the Prodigal Son
But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 19th of December 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite ghosts include SpaceGhost, Slimer, and the bad guys in PacMan. He is Christoper Gillespie
The show is written and read by a man listening to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Last Christmas” on repeat. No joke. I’m Dan van Voorhis
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.