A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Bah Humbug! The (Ghost) Story of Scrooge.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens (1812–1870), is perhaps the most beloved of all English language Christmas tales, and always feels right at this time of year. The reader need not be a Christian, or a member of any religion whatsoever, to understand the simple message of the story: Be kind. Be generous. Be a good person.

Brief Summary: A Christmas Carol.

In A Christmas Carol, first published in 1843, Charles Dickens’ central character, the grouchy (=irritable, angry, bad-tempered) and miserly (= selfish, greedy, hoarding) old businessman, Ebenezer Scrooge, discovers that true success is found not in wealth, but in kindness to others. 

The story opens.

As the story opens, Ebenezer Scrooge is a rich but mean-spirited (=unkind, selfish)  old man who openly mocks (=is aggressively critical of, makes fun of) the notion (=idea or concept) of Christmas as a time for generosity (giving and sharing) and kindness. Dickens says, “Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand (=reluctant to spend any money) at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!” (=These adjectives all refer to greed and the desire to acquire wealth, no matter who gets hurts.)

But one cold night, when he is visited in his bedchamber (=bedroom) by 3 time-traveling ghosts, Scrooge is forced to confront (=to deal directly & honestly with) his past, present, and future.

The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.

As he faces the truth of his own greed and cruelty, under the guidance (=counsel) of the 3 powerful ghosts, Scrooge develops compassion (feelings of kindness) for what we would today call his “wounded inner child,” and by extension, for others.

Spoiler warning: The final scenes.

After the ghostly visits, Scrooge awakens full of good will and joy. He has truly been reborn, and understands that “charity, mercy . . . and benevolence” are everyone’s business, (= everyone’s responsibility).

Charity =giving to those in need; Mercy =forgiveness/kindness; benevolence =consistently having good, kind intentions.

A new man.

Truly “a new man,” Scrooge runs into the snowy street and pays the first boy he sees to purchase and deliver a huge Christmas turkey to the family of his employee, Bob Cratchit. Bob has long suffered under the terrible work conditions and miserly pay at Scrooge’s office and does not expect anything but cruelty from Ebenezer.

Scrooge also merrily accosts (= abruptly says hello to) some men he knows, and shocks them by offering to contribute (= to give money) to their charity. Finally, he attends his nephew’s Christmas party. He is so full of sincere kindness and happiness that he is almost unrecognizable. (= it is hard to believe he is the same person).

The next day, when Scrooge and Bob Cratchit are back at work, Scrooge pretends to be his old, mean self, but then surprises Cratchit with a huge raise (=a much larger salary) and help for Bob’s troubled family.

Scrooge continues to be a good man. He becomes a “second father” to TIny Tim, the sickly son of Bob Cratchit, who, according to the Ghost of Christmas Future, was going to die. But because of Ebenezer’s newly found kindness, the boy is saved, and Scrooge carries the kind and generous Christmas spirit forward into every single day of his life.

The narrator concludes the story by quoting Tiny Tim, who says, “God bless us, Every one!”

What are some of the most memorable words, phrases and quotes from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol?

“Bah humbug” – Ebenezer Scrooge

Bah humbug, which is still used to playfully express a negative attitude about a festive event is built from: Bah indicates contempt or disgust; and humbug, meaning nonsense or rubbish. The phrase first appeared in print when spoken by Ebenezer Scrooge in a Christmas Carol. 

“God bless us every one!”  Tiny Tim

 “It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and, if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.”  Jacob Marley

“Come in, come in! and know me better, man! I am the Ghost of Christmas Present. Look upon me! You have never seen the like of me before!”  The Ghost of Christmas Present

“If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”  Ebenezer Scrooge, before he is transformed into a good man.

“You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”  Ebenezer Scrooge, when a ghost appears and he tries to convince the ghost, and himself, that this is all just a bad dream caused by indigestion.

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.”  Ebenezer Scrooge, after his transformation.

Do you want your own complete A Christmas Carol free ebook from Project Gutenberg?

Click our link to go to the Project Gutenberg page. There are no strings attached. No cost, no form to complete. And you can read the text of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol on any device.

You should be able to view these movies on YouTube. In the Netherlands, all the links I am posting go to free, public domain content. I hope they are also free wherever you are. There are several options for your Scrooge / A Christmas Carol movie viewing pleasure. I will share a few below.

The oldest black and white version of the film, from 1935, is called Scrooge. If you are a true movie lover, do not miss this vintage presentation of A Christmas Carol.

If you just want a little sample, but not the entire film, try this trailer for the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol, called Scrooge, also in black and white.

Or if something more modern suits you better, this Hallmark TNT movie is from 1999. A Christmas Carol with Patrick Stewart.

This link goes to A Christmas Carol, the Musical (2004).

And finally, here is a full audiobook, A Christmas Carol.

For all you Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol nerds– did you know…?

Read Ten Things To Know About Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Brenda de Jong-Pauley, The English Center of Amsterdam, 2023

Are you looking for more holiday movie recommendations?

Would you like to improve your English in the new year? Visit The English Center homepage to learn more about our services in the Netherlands and everywhere online.

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