By the early part of the nineteenth century, Christmas [in North America] had almost died out. The Times newspaper, for example, did not once mention Christmas between 1790 and 1835.
Many American settlers of the 1600s were Puritans, strict Protestants who believed that Christmas was a Catholic holiday and therefore not to be celebrated. And for the next 200 years, until the start of the 20th century, Christmas was not celebrated by most in America, and was celebrated quietly by those who did.
And in England under the government of Oliver Cromwell from 1653 to 1658, it wasn’t celebrated either. Though in 1660, two years after Cromwell’s death, the ban was lifted, and Christmas was again instituted as a holiday. However, from the mid-1600s to the end of the 18th century—almost 150 years—Christmas celebrations weren’t much like we celebrate today. It was during the Victorian era that so many of the holiday traditions that we currently celebrate were embraced. What changed? A lot had to do with one man writing a story about Christmas.
In 1843, British novelist Charles Dickens (1812–1870) wrote A Christmas Carol. Not counting the story of the first Christmas, it’s probably one of the most popular Christmas stories of all time. In his novella, Charles Dickens idealized a certain kind of Christmas that we now base a lot of our Christmas perceptions on. You might think that with him writing such a wonderful description of Christmas as celebrated by Tiny Tim’s family, that this was how most of England celebrated Christmas—the tree, the Christmas carols, the turkey dinner, the family togetherness, the gift giving. But not really. At least, not at the time.
“When we read or hear A Christmas Carol,” says Bruce Forbes in an interview with a regional radio program, “We are not seeing a reflection of what Christmas was like in his day; we’re seeing what Dickens would like Christmas to be.”
At the start of the 19th century, Christmases weren’t like what we see depicted in A Christmas Carol. “There was a lot of unemployment,” Dickens scholar John Jordan says. “There was misery, and he saw Christmas as something that tended to function as sort of a counterforce to the negative effects of the industrial revolution.” So, many thanks go to Charles Dickens for somehow looking beyond how Christmas was celebrated at that time and creating a vision of something better.
There’s nothing stopping you from creating your own Christmas traditions that have honest and special meaning to you.
Decide on wonderful things to do for those you love; bathe your actions in love—and you’ll have one of the best Christmas traditions ever.