James Grundy MP: Dickens book still recognisable today

The Christmas and New Year period is upon us once again and the Christmas decorations are up everywhere, including images of Father Christmas, Christmas trees are standing proudly in town and village squares and Christmas songs are merrily blasting out of speakers in local shops.
Leigh MP James GrundyLeigh MP James Grundy
Leigh MP James Grundy

But the Christmas we know today has evolved over the years, indeed, the word ‘Christmas’ only appears in the English language from 1038, as ‘Christesmaesse’ initially.

The celebration of the birth of Christ with festivities was first recorded as being held on December 25th, 336 AD, in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, over 300 years after the actual birth of Christ.

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It was around this time that the figure of Father Christmas emerged, in the form of the real world figure of St Nicholas, the Greek Orthodox Christian bishop of Myra, in Lycia, then part of the Roman Empire, today in Turkey.

He was known for his generosity towards the poor, including providing dowries to three daughters from an impoverished family so that they could marry.

It was only later in the sixteenth century in England, at the time of Henry VIII, that Father Christmas took on his more recognisable form that we see today, the only difference being that his robes were often green instead of red.

He was portrayed as being a spirit of good cheer and goodwill. After a period of religious turmoil toward the end of the Western Roman Empire, the celebration of Christmas fell into abeyance in Western Europe until the devout Christian Charlemagne was crowned Carolingian Emperor in the year 800 on December 25, after which the celebration came back into fashion.

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In England, during the period of the Protectorate under Cromwell, Christmas was banned, as devout Puritans believed the celebration of Christmas brought about drunkenness and immorality.

Although Christmas was again made legal after the Restoration, the perception sadly still stuck that the celebration of Christmas was somehow ‘disreputable’.

This remained the case until the early 19th century, when a number of forces came together to make the celebration seem ‘respectable’ again.

Movements within the Church of England emphasised the central role of Christmas in Christianity and charity to the poor, and a number of authors wrote stories emphasising the importance of family, children, kindness and gift giving at Christmastime.

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Indeed, we owe author Charles Dickens a great debt for promoting the Christmas we recognise today through his excellent book ‘A Christmas Carol’.

When Charles Dickens wrote his famous Christmas story in 1843, the people of Britain were re-evaluating old Christmas traditions, as well as coming to terms with new ones, such as Christmas trees and Christmas cards, and it just so happened he captured and crystallised the idea at the time.

With the widespread popularity of ‘A Christmas Carol’, the mid-Victorian revival of Christmas became embedded in our national consciousness, and astoundingly, the book has never been out of print since it was first published.

Indeed, the book caught the public interest so thoroughly that the first edition was published on December 19, 1843, and was sold out by Christmas Eve, with 13 more editions published in the following 12 months.

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It is remarkable that nearly 180 years after the publication of the story, the Christmas portrayed within its pages is so recognisable to us today, in this modern world that is in so many other ways so different.

On that final point, I hope that all readers had themselves a Merry Christmas, with family and friends, with good cheer and good spirit, for the reason that Christmas has been with us for so long as a celebration is that it appeals to the best in our nature.

Merry Christmas and God bless us, every one, as Tiny Tim would say.”

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