BBC History Magazine
Which Christmas traditions, if any, is Charles Dickens responsible for?
Many of the Christmas traditions enjoyed in the UK today were introduced or popularised during Dickens’ lifetime: the first Christmas card was sent, crackers were invented, and Prince Albert famously introduced Christmas trees from his native Germany. Old traditions such as carol singing, feasting, and giving presents were reinvigorated in the Victorian era and became closely associated with Christmas time.
Dickens himself wasn’t responsible for these traditions. However, his vibrant and evocative depictions of Christmas celebrations cemented his association with the time of year and encouraged others to enjoy Christmas anew.
The most enduring example is
A Christmas Carol (1843). With this novel, Dickens capitalised on and helped to drive a burgeoning Christmas publishing trade. He also wrote books that could be given as gifts: in addition to
A Christmas Carol, he published four other Christmas books, as well as extra Christmas issues of his weekly magazines. These editions were distributed every Christmas for almost 20 years, and they became an anticipated fixture in the publishing calendar.
But it is A Christmas Carol that has best stood the test of time. Its depictions of family, hardship, cruelty and kindness, but most importantly personal transformation and forgiveness, have become central to how we understand and mark Christmas. For many, it is the act of returning to this story – whether through books, theatre or film – that has now become a tradition of the festive season.