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What is meant by the spirit of Christmas and how Dickens writes about it?
Dickens represents the spirit of Christmas in Victorian society as a combination of religion, enjoyment and charity. It brings out the best in people, involves generosity and kindness and its spirit is powerful enough to reform Scrooge. This is shown symbolically through the Ghost of Christmas Present and many references to Christmas traditions such as Christmas songs, holly and tradition to have feast and drinks. The religious side of Christmas is through the characters of Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim who goes to church on Christmas morning as well as Scrooge in Stave 5. Christmas is also honoured through the portly gentlemen honour Christmas by collecting for charity and through Fred and Bob Cratchit show their Christmas spirit in their positive attitudes towards Scrooge.
Dicken’s highlights the postive Christmas spirit in stave 1, through the character of Fred. Dicken’s uses symbolism for the character of Fred who embodies what Christmas should mean. He refers to ‘its scared name and origin’ reminding Scrooge that it is the celebration of the birth of Christ and asserts that nothing about Christmas can be ‘apart from that’. This connotes that parties and other traditions are not sinful but a chance to celebrate and honour Christ. It is a ‘kind, forgiving charitable, pleasant time.’ Through this dialogue, Dickens reminds the reader of the true spirit and meaning of Christmas. He believes it to bring the best out of people which could foreshadow that Christmas’s spirit is so strong it is the underlying force that leads to his redemption. Scrooge's nephew, the son of his beloved but now dead sister, is his only living relative, and also the only person who wants to pull him out of isolation and back into the world. Dickens uses the character of Fred to be Scrooge's bridge back into human relations and to show that when Scrooge isolates himself in his horrible little apartment on Christmas, he is actually making a choice to be alone rather than forced to be that way by circumstance. The reader knows that at Scrooge has an alternative—he could go to Fred's party and be a normal person—realize just how far his bitterness and miserliness have taken him out of the world when he declines.
He is determined to include Scrooge in the celebrations which is evident when Dickens uses dialogue to reveal he means ‘to give him the same chance, where he likes it or not. He believes in the importance of being kind at Christmas and believes in the strength of the Christmas spirit. Dickens shows this through the use of the exclamatory sentence ‘God save you’ to highlight Fred’s enthusiastic attitude towards the redemption of Scrooge despite the lack of sins of him ever changing. This shows the reader that with a good Christmas spirit you will progress as a human and remain a good character who is looked up towards .Dickens uses Fred as a foil character to Scrooge’s character to emphasis Scrooge’s negative qualities and how instead of Fred being annoyed at his behaviour feels sorry for him. Whereas Fred’s personality is defined by his distinctive ‘laugh’ which illustrates his optimism, Scrooge’s personality is determined by his harsh, critical comments towards the poor and his selfishness and greed revolving money. For example, in stave 1 Scrooge tells the charity collectors that it would be better if the poor would die so they could ‘decrease the surplus population.’ This is a direct reference to Malthus’s theories and how extreme and harsh they are as this comment was meant to shock the readers of the Victorian society who were wealthy as only the middle class could read. Scrooge’s misery may link with his refusal to celebrate Christmas whilst Fred’s happiness and ‘open heart’ relays to how strong his Christmas spirit is and the qualities that surround it such as generosity and benevolence.
Dickens presents the spirit of Christmas symbolically through the image of the spirit of Christmas Present since they are reflections of things associated with Christmas during certain time periods during the length of Scrooge’s life. Dicken’s uses personification to externalise the overwhelming Christmas spirit although the Victorian Era was where Christmas decorations and traditions were something recently introduced. It is also to demonstrate to the reader what the Christmas spirit is and what it truly is about. Dickens uses listing to convey the sheer amount of Christmas decorations such as ‘holly, mistletoe and ivy.’ This particular tradition of bringiing these plants indoors goes back to pagan festivals, highlighting Christmas is supposed to be celebrated like a festival. To further describe the Christmas spirit, Dicken uses imagery to illustrate how the leaves ‘reflected back light.’ The noun ‘light’ is used by Dickens to create the image that Christmas is a time of innocence and peace since its often associated with things such as angels and purity. It could also be a religious imagery as Christmas isn’t just a time for celebration but to remember God, espically since the Victorians were very religious and had a strong belief in God. Christmas is a symbol of the God’s love to mortals and a day which is supposed to focus on peace which is why it results in such high spirits. Momentarily, worries are gone.
Dickens also uses listing to describe the food such as ‘turkeys, geese, game poultry…’ heaped on the floor to reinforce the immense quantity of food. This was done to oppose the economist Malthus wo argued poverty was inevitable. He wrote the human population would always grow faster than grow food supplies so the worst off in society would get less and less. However, Dicken’s believe this to be wrong but there was a lack of wealth distribution due to the selfishness of the wealthy. He argue this idea through pointing out there was plenty of food around. This is to draw attention to the significance of Christmas and how it truly is a positive time for celebration and as a way to show that since Scrooge lacks Christmas spirit he is missing out on all of this good. Christmas traditions such as ‘turkey’ are used. In the nineteenth century, turkey was replacing goose as the luxury meat for Christmas to show that the Christmas spirit was very strong and reinforced as society in general went out of their way to draw attention to it and truly make it a special day. However during the listing, Dicken uses the noun ‘geese’ right after the noun ‘turkey’ to juxtapose different social classes. Turkey was considered a luxury since it was expensive and couldn’t be afforded by the poor such as the Cratchit family who has a ‘goose.’ However, this was a ‘featured phenomenon’ like a ‘black swan’. Dicken’s uses the metaphor of the ‘black swan’ to draw focus towards how poor the Cratchit family were since even a goose was a rare food for this. Despite this, they remain highly optimistic which is evident when ‘the young Cratchits went to fetch the goose’ which they return in ‘high procession’. Dicken’s uses the noun ‘procession’ to describe that they returned in a orderly fashion as though in a festival due to suppressed excitement but not wanting to tinge the spirit of Christmas by dropping the turkey. Furthermore, the Ghost of Christmas Present’s sword is ‘rusty’ which reveals that there is no conflict at Christmas due to moral compasses being high in reflection of high spirits. Dicken’s uses adjectives such as ‘jolly, ‘genial’ and ‘cheery’ to emphasis how jovial the spirit of Christmas is.
The spirit of Dickens represents the spirit of Christmas to involve generosity and kindness. Dicken’s uses several characters to show his audience Christmas is a time to help those less fortunate than themselves. The charity collectors who are trying to make ‘slight provisions’ for the poor are a good example of this. Although during Victorian society, the Malthusian attitude was very popular which involved the belief that the poor were poor due to being ‘idle’ which is Scrooge’s belief particularly from wealthy, middle class Victorians such as Scrooge they still went out of their way to ask people who were likely to refuse. This highlights that there was still enough spirit to act on Christian values such as benevolence and charity. Dickens uses Scrooge as an allegory for middle class Victorians who believed that ‘Money from industry made the rich, richer and the gap between rich and poor widened. Workers had to toil for long hours and for little money. Children didn’t go to school and worked long hours for a low wage to help support their families who barely had enough money to buy food. The charity collectors are trying to provide ‘Christian cheer’ at a time where poverty is clearly made obvious by the excessed enjoyed by the poor. Dickens is implying to his reader that it is not only our moral duty to reinforce the Christmas spirit but a duty as being a Christian. As someone devoted to God, they should be practicing the qualities such as charity anyways and the Christmas spirit only reinforces that. They have a sense of social responsibility as they have compassion for the poor and reinforce the importance of charity at Christmas. The charity collectors relay Dicken’s belief that prisons and workhouses weren’t acceptable places to send the poor since they were extremely harsh places and families were often split up. Many people ‘would rather die’ because they had a fear instilled in them since work houses were made so you wouldn’t want to go to one. The workhouses oppose all the qualities that made up the Christmas spirit such as kindness, charity and family since they are a place where those don’t exist. Here, Scrooge is highlight the importance of Christmas spirit.
To further demonstrate the generosity and benevolence of the Christmas spirit, Dicken’s uses the character of Fezziwig who was Scrooge’s cheerful and generous employer when he was a young apprentice. Fezziwig is the complete antithesis of Scrooge. Scrooge’s encounter him again through the Ghost of Christmas Past. Dicken’s displays Fezziwig generosity through him hosing a lively party, and the vision gives Scrooge the opportunity to ponder the value of generosity. Dickens does this so that Scrooge sees the bright face of his former self and reflects on kind old master’s generosity: “Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.” Dickens is emphasising the importance of Christmas values and spirit to his readers through illustrating how the qualities Fezziwig gave Scrooge a lasting positive impression of him.
Furthermore, Fezziwig’s generosity spread happiness to his workers. Fezziwig symbolizes all the good that a human can possess, particularly a human who is a business owner. We read at one point that he ''laughed all over himself,'' which shows us how thoroughly jolly this man is. We also learn that he has ''a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice'' that shows us his jolliness is more than skin deep. If we weren't yet convinced that Mr. Fezziwig is a lovely man, when he says things like ''Hilli-ho, ****!'' and ''Chirrup, Ebenezer!'' it is difficult not to smile. Dickens makes it quite clear that Mr. Fezziwig is the sort of person one wants to be around! Mr. Fezziwig also serves as a foil to Ebenezer Scrooge. Mr. Fezziwig's unbounded joyful nature serves to highlight Mr. Scrooge's cranky and dismal personality. One specific instance where this occurs is when Fezziwig can hardly contain his excitement in telling his apprentices to stop working so they can hurry up and start their Christmas party: ''Yo ho, my boys! ... No more work to-night. Christmas Eve, ****. Christmas, Ebenezer! Let's have the shutters up''! The exclamatory sentences are used by Dickens to convey to the reader how infectious the spirit of Christmas is and its overwhelmingly positive effects.
This is a stark contrast to when Mr. Scrooge was with his own clerk, Bob Cratchit, at closing time on Christmas Eve. Scrooge refused to end the day early, he offered no Christmas greetings to Bob, and he even complained about Bob wanting Christmas day off from work, saying it was ''A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December’. Thus, his lack of Christmas spirit and qualities made him very disliked and ‘unnatural’. This is evident when the Ghost of Christmas Future shows an image of two business men discussing him briefly after he died. They, like Scrooge, juxtapose the Christmas qualities such as charity and generosity. Dicken’s uses them to symbolise rich, greedy Victorians. Scrooge’s ‘unnatural’ behaviour lead to no one caring about his death. Dicken’s uses the lack of Scrooge’s name to emphasis the lack of humanisation they allow themselves to give Scrooge as they’re selfish and very limited in their emotions for others. They may only attend the funeral for ‘free lunch’ reflecting the horrid opinions Scrooge previously had. They both have made outrageous comments which is a way of Dicken’s creating parallels evident to her reader between them. One merchant has a ‘monstrous chin’ and another has a growth on his nose that ‘shook like the gills of a turkey ****.’ Dickens uses the adjectives ‘monstrous’ and ‘turkey’ to describe them to dehumanise them and reflect the ugliness of their attitudes. Dickens uses inhuman imagery to reflect how deflecting the Christmas spirit and with it religion and qualities such as generosity and benevolence, to illustrate to the reader that it strips back layers of humanity until their thoughts and mindset could hardly be human. They become outcasts of society, much like the poor they ignored during their life time.
Dickens demonstrates the unifying power of Christmas on society, particularly through the power of Christmas spirit being an underlying force that drove Scrooge’s redemption. The unifying power of Christmas is reinforced by the narrator’s descriptions of Londoners celebrating together. Repeatedly, Dickens using listing to represent unity as he describes people from all elements of society partaking in similar festive activities. From the ‘Lord Mayor’ to ‘his cooks and butlers’, the ‘drunk and blood-thirsty’ ‘tailor’ and a ‘party of ragged men’ it is clear that all elements of society are unified by Christmas. This emphasis Scrooge’s isolation in his refusal to participate. Scrooge is symbolised by the ‘water-plug being left in solitude…turned to misanthropic ice’. Dickens uses the personification of the ice to demonstrate that isolation leads to unsociable, unneighbourly and, by extension, unchristian behaviour as one of the bible’s commandments instructs Christians to ‘love thy neighbour’. Dicken’s uses the noun ‘ice’ as its cold but not stable meaning all his wealth he built in his life will be meaningless when he dies (melts like ice does). Dickens also uses the noun ‘solitude’ to truly reinforce how lonely as an individual he is because his greed has casted this shadow over his mind so much, so he believes Christmas to be a waste of time. In a society where Christianity was largely practiced, this emphasises the morality of the messages and is a way to reinforce the readers to embed these values into their own lives. He is implying to the reader that being a good Christian means possessing the qualities of one such as the character of Fezziwig who uses his power to make people’s lives good or bad to spread joy and a great amount of happiness.
Dickens promotes the importance of allowing Christmas to create unity between all members of society, rich or poor. This pattern is repeated throughout the text as we see miners, sailors, families, friends and employees, all joining in Christmas celebrations. Scrooge’s isolation is only ended when he embraces Christmas too. At the end of the text Scrooge has been developed to a man fully redeemed. He exclaims that “Christmas Time be praised for this!” and continues to embrace the Christmas traditions he had scorned as the story concludes. In doing so, Scrooge also interacts with all members of society as he ‘patted children’ and ‘questioned beggars’. Thus, even Scrooge is united with his fellow man through his celebration of Christmas.
Overall Dickens presents the spirit of Christmas to be power since it drove Scrooge to his redemption and reinforces qualities such as charity, benevolence and generosity into Victorian society. It was also a reminder to be a good Christian and was a time where people thought of others.