By Darina Keshtova
Christmas is a very special time of the year, associated not only with widely beloved traditions, favorite movies, hot chocolate, fir trees, and heart-warming stories, but also with economic and social significance. As a person studying these topics, I find it interesting to learn about economic trends during holidays like Christmas, where countless consumers engage in transactions with thousands of sellers, annually spending around eight hundred billion dollars. Even though the socio-economic impact of Christmas is strongly marked by current technological inventions and instruments of trading such as online stores, these factors do not really explain the roots of certain economic phenomena this holiday causes. These are often influenced by traditions that go back many years.
Like the majority of important social tendencies, the reasons for such broad economic activity are depicted and described in works of art. “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens, is a good example. The economic subtext of this novel will help us understand how it has changed people’s feeling of money, the dynamics of rising inequality and shifts in consumption patterns, setting the way we celebrate Christmas now.
We need to start with how the story originated. It’s widely known that Charles Dickens was financially struggling, and wrote this novel for money. However, I firmly believe that his own sentiments were also involved, as his text is penetrated with resentment from the poor towards their inhumane working and living conditions. The text carries a strong social message, showing the connection between society, organizations, and commerce. It thus quickly became a masterpiece of Dickensian literature.
It’s also important to consider the concept of Christmas and how it fits into the economic situation in England at the time the book was written. According to Clement A. Miles, the midwinter season was linked to economic excess as people suddenly increased their spending with their yearly savings. Consequently, we can see the political and economic significance of the Roman Catholic Church identifying the celebration of Christmas on the day of Christ’s birth. In the time of Dickens, the middle class sought a new approach to Christmas, featuring a diminishing popularity of the season to combat the danger of social conflict between rich and poor, while still having a need for a new kind of large-scale, non-utilitarian consumption economy to support the increasing scale of industrial production. This economic climate made “A Christmas Carol” even more relevant for its time.
The narrative unfolds on Christmas Eve at approximately 3 p.m.. Ebenezer Scrooge, once a partner of a financial enterprise in London, now runs the firm alone since his partner Jacob Marley died seven years prior. Charles Dickens introduces Scrooge in the most negative manner, meeting customers with greed and mistreating his clerk, Bob Cratchit. Despising the “humbug” of Christmas, the lonesome Scrooge heads home where he encounters ghostly apparitions, beginning with Marley’s warning about the burden of his misdeeds in the afterlife. After, the Ghost of Christmas Past makes Scrooge revisit joyful moments. The next apparition—the Ghost of Christmas Present—presents the joy of the season among both the rich and the poor. Finally, The Ghost of Christmas Future shows Scrooge his unmourned death, forcing him to rethink his world outlook and become a better, more charitable person. After waking up from this night’s journey, Scrooge sends generous gifts to his clerk and his family, consequently getting closer with the family and helping them overcome struggles. This gesture embodies the Christmas spirit.
This is significant not only from the point of showing the inner transformation of Scrooge, but in understanding the author’s view on how to address the economic concerns of that time. Even though Dickens shows the avarice of Scrooge induced by his wealth and social status, he does not find the solution of the problem in depriving the rich of how they accumulated wealth. He shows an alternative model of wealth-redistribution, that it should be brought back to economic circulation in the form of philanthropy and fair wages, which would significantly reduce inequality through increase of possible sufficient and more just consumption.
Dickens devotes a lot of significance to the role of consumption as the core of economic and social happiness in his text. He expresses it through depicting the Ghost of Christmas Present rising above Scrooge on the throne made of all the kinds of holiday dishes and delicacies, from turkey to bowls of punch. Moreover, in the final chapter after regenerative awakening, Scrooge, in order to show his gratitude to his clerk Bob and bring joy to the whole Cratchett family, sends them an expensive prize Turkey, a feast unavailable to the poorest of Victorian society.
By demonstrating the influence of the spirit of Christmas on the character of Scrooge and his rethinking of attitudes towards charity and helping the less fortunate in society, Dickens illustrates not only the protagonist’s desire to compensate his clerk for all his suffering, but also his focus on preventing social upheaval caused by inequality in the distribution of wealth and exploitation majority. At the same time, this change does not deprive the bourgeoisie of its social rights, providing the opportunity to open access to the benefits of industrialization to previously excluded classes. Thus, the bourgeoisie, while providing assistance to the less affluent sections of society, at the same time maintains its position, preventing possible social imbalances.
The story itself is considered by some to both depict and invent the paradigm of modern Anglo-American Christmas. Even though this is widely debated, it’s fair to say that “A Christmas Carol” depicts an idealized Christmas, where the artificially created feeling of civic engagement and social cohesion of rich and poor—which hardly characterized the relationships between classes in the society of that time—-takes place in the ancient historical context of this holiday. Yet still, “A Christmas Carol” definitely contributed to setting the course of how this holiday is to be celebrated in the modern day.