The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued his Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits (a holiday re-read), by Les Standiford

Eight stars

Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale is surely synonymous with the holiday season, from its spooky mention of ghosts to its endearing message of love and understanding. However, the story behind this shorter novel is almost as intriguing as the prose itself. After reading a fictitious version of events, I looked to Les Standiford, whose non-fiction account, The Man Who Invented Christmas, offers curious readers something on which they can chew to better understand the background. Highly educational and enlightening, this is a great piece to accompany the Dickens classic. Recommended to those with a love of the holiday season, as well as the reader who may want to chase the Scrooge out of their heart after a horrid 2020 (and 2021).

Charles Dickens may have been a popular author throughout his life, but that does not mean that he enjoyed a positive upbringing. Having come from a childhood of poverty, Charles Dickens was forced to pull himself up by his bootstraps. These early years of scrounging and being forced to rub two pennies together proved helpful when he penned some of his earliest novels, including Oliver Twist. As Standiford mentions throughout, it was his astuteness to his surroundings that gave Dickens ideas for his plots and characters.

Of interest to some readers, Standiford explores how Dickens used to write his novels piecemeal, submitting them for serial publication. While they could appear long as a final product, the short pieces that found their way into weekly or monthly collections made the stories seem a little more palatable. Standiford uses this contrast when discussing the creation of A Christmas Carol, which would not be as long as these other pieces, but had to be completed over a shorter time period.

Dickens had come off a less than stellar publication of a novel that was not getting the excitement his publishers had hoped. With the holiday season creeping up, Dickens was tasked with writing a Christmas story in a short period of time. Pulling on examples from all aspects of his life, Dickens wrote about a man—Ebenezer Scrooge—who hated the joyousness that Christmas brought, but who underwent a significant epiphany after being visited by four beings. The end result proved to be eye-opening for all involved and created a new buzz around the Christmas season.

Strandiford explores the Christmas celebration throughout the book, from its traditions to how it was only minimally celebrated through the centuries. It was the Victorian Era that pushed England to shed its neutrality to the celebrations and breathe new life into this most powerful of feast times. From the Germanic influence of trees at Christmas to the buzz of gift giving and the appearance of Father Christmas, England grew more accepting of the holiday, something that appears in Dickens’ story. While I think it would be a tad hyperbolic to say that Dickens alone breathed life into the holiday season, his story certainly explored some of the less commercial aspects of the season.

I only read A Christmas Carol for the first time in the 2019 Christmas season. While you try to catch your breathe and step back in shock, I will let you know that I have seen the movie and know the premise, but the story itself takes on new meaning when using the author’s actual prose. Pairing the actual story with Standiford’s book (as well as a piece by Samantha Silva, do check it out), offers a great understand of Victorian times and how the holiday evolved. There is a great deal for the reader to understand that will permit a thorough and comprehensive exploration of the themes and ideas. Standiford does a masterful job at shining some light on this for those readers who wish the context.

While there are portions of the book that are quasi-textbook, the information garnered from the pages of Standiford’s book is second to none. Understanding how Christmas was once passed off as just another day and what the Church did to counter the rise of pagan rituals is quite ingenious. Using that backstory and some of the Victorian traditions, the reader can see how it all comes together as Scrooge makes his way through his one sobering night. These nuggets proved useful and provided some additional takeaway, something I always enjoy when it comes to reading. With short chapters, full of great information, the reader is surely to find something that interests them, as it relates to the story. If only this were not such an isolating holiday season. I would love to regale people with ‘did you know?’ moments. Oh well, it just means I have another year to practice and study!

Kudos, Mr. Standiford, for a wonderful piece that entertained and educated in equal measure.