Les Standiford is the director of the Creative Writing program at Florida International University. He has written an intriguing back story to Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol in his book “The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits.”
If the title makes you question the attribution of inventor of Christmas to Dickens (given that the holiday was certainly celebrated pre-19th Century) Professor Standiford clarifies things for us a bit when he says, “Dickens did not singlehandedly dream up the concept of a yuletide season with its various accoutrements.” Standiford asserts rather that Dickens “came to the rescue of a downtrodden holiday that a repressed Western world was fairly bursting to revive.” The result, as Standiford readily admits, was that Dickens “gave his contemporaries … a secular counterpart to the story of the Nativity…”
Standiford traces briefly the biographical history of Charles Dickens, whose life came to a critical turning point in October of 1843, leading ultimately to the writing of “A Christmas Carol” that same December when he was just 31 years old.
In addition to his helpful biographical background on Dickens, Professor Standiford recounts how the birth of Christ came to be celebrated on December 25 via the edict of a fourth century Pope (Julius I), effectively merging the pagan orgies of the Roman Saturnalia with the Church’s celebration of the birth of Christ:
The decision to create Christmas … officially celebrating the birth of Jesus for the first time, brought mixed blessings to the Church. Indeed, many pagans found the new religion that embraced their old customs inviting, and the membership rolls grew.
For the next 1200 years this merging of paganism with Christianity became the quasi-standard for true and “proper” celebrations of Christmas. But, in Standiford’s recounting and much to his dismay, along came Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans in the 18th Century whose “views of the practice of Christianity” led them to conclude that such celebrations of Christmas “had simply gotten out of hand.”