It is only a slight exaggeration to say that Charles Dickens invented Christmas. Prior to his classic 1843 tale “A Christmas Carol,” the holiday had been neglected and for the most part forgotten.
“A Christmas Carol” was instrumental in transforming this once dormant holiday into the mega-celebration it has become throughout western civilization. Thus the title of the current film “The Man Who Invented Christmas” (starring Dan Stevens as Dickens, Christopher Plummer as Ebenezer Scrooge, and based on the book by Les Standiford).
It’s not exactly the story behind the story. The movie’s depiction of Dickens basing his infamous character Scrooge on a real-life encounter is not accurate. Nor is the movie’s assertion accurate that Dickens had penned three flops in a row by the time he was writing “A Christmas Carol.”
But the movie does not pretend to be the product of Dickens scholarship. Moreover, the movie largely touches upon the book “Martin Chuzzlewit,” which Dickens was working on at the time of “A Christmas Carol” and which was indeed a flop.
And most accurate is the movie’s emphasis that Dickens, like the fictional character Scrooge, had painful memories of childhood. The movie succeeds in displaying how Dickens had much in common with the infamous Scrooge.
As for inventing Christmas itself, it is hard today to imagine the holiday being overlooked. But there is an explanation. England under the Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell had banned the Christmas celebration in the 17th century and Cromwell’s Puritan counterparts in America followed suit. By the time the monarchy was restored in England, Christmas was quite slow in making a comeback.
Yet there is great irony to the role Dickens played in relation to the evolution of Christmas. For his enthusiasm for Christmas notwithstanding, Dickens also admired Cromwell, attributing to him in “A Child’s History of England” the establishment of Great Britain’s democratic principles.
Even more ironic is that Cromwell had banned Christmas because it was essentially a Catholic celebration. And also notwithstanding his enthusiasm for Christmas, Dickens harbored great animosity toward the Catholic Church.
Rest assured, the viewer is not inundated with all this history in “The Man Who Invented Christmas.” The movie is at once enjoyable and an innovative treatment of Dickens, the Victorian author who did as much for Christmas as he did for literature itself.
John O’Neill is an Allen Park freelance writer.