"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year"

The history of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"

"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year"

Illustration of Tiny Tim by Fred Barnard, 1870

Few authors have reached the fame of Charles Dickens. The author of dozens of works, his name has become a byword for describing the social conditions of Victorian cities. Of all Dickens' works A Christmas Carol stands out as probably the greatest and most important.

A redemptive tale, this short novella follows Ebeneezer Scrooge as he discovers the true meaning of Christmas and Christianity in a single night. Focusing on the importance of family, friendship, charity, community, and love for your fellow man A Christmas Carol has had an incredible influence on creating the modern Christmas. Retold countless times, from the Muppets to Bill Murray, this tale has become a fundamental part of Christmas for many.

While the tale of Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, and Tiny Tim has become old hat to most of us, this tale was once fresh and new not only to first time readers but to the world in general.

Published at a time of growing fascination with Christmas, this short tale was as much a capital venture as an artistic one. Dickens' popularity had been waning and, with another child on the way, he was in need of another bestseller. Tapping into the wider fascination with Christmas, Dickens sought to create his own seasonal hit and, hopefully, land a big paycheck. 

Though money was certainly a motivating factor in the writing of A Christmas Carol the characters and content came from Dickens' own tough childhood and interest in social concerns. England's industrial boom had brought misery for many as new factory driven cities expanded, spawning slums where workers slept the few hours they didn't work.

Dickens chose to focus on this largely overlooked world in A Christmas Carol, a bold decision that put figures like the hardworking Bob Cratchit and his disabled son at the center of his tale. As A Christmas Carol's popularity grew figures like Tiny Tim and Scrooge's redemptive charity became increasingly ingrained into the celebration itself. Today Christmas is hardly complete without hearing at least one wish of; "God bless us, every one!".

But what exactly makes A Christmas Carol so popular? Why has it stood the test of time when so many other Christmas tales have been forgotten? And why do we keep coming back to watch Scrooge save himself again and again? What is so appealing about this tale?

In a special Christmas broadcast Patrick Geoghegan talks with a panel of experts about this great work and what exactly makes it so special.