Dickens Directed Study
July 10, 2001
The Joy of A Christmas Carol
The feelings associated with Christmas and the Christmas season are vast and varied. The original celebration was confined to the religious rite commemorating the birth of Christ and the subsequent advent of Christianity. For centuries, Christmas was singularly a holy day that was observed with more solemnity than joy. In 601 AD, Pope Gregory instructed his missionary (St. Austin, of Canterbury) to make the local winter feast a Christian festival. (1) During this period in history, the Medieval Church disregarded any conflict between pagan and Christian intentions and thus the mingling of these two occasions created a joyous and merry atmosphere.
Many traditions that we associate with the Christmas season were originally pagan symbols. Holly, with three red berries and three green leaves, represented the Holy Trinity. The Druids venerated mistletoe, and early Christians decorated their altars with these white berries.
Under the Anglo-Norman kings, the celebration grew to twelve days: (Christmas Eve until Epiphany). The twelve days of Christmas were celebrated with pageants, plays, feasts, and drinking. (1)
When Cromwell came into power, the celebration of Christmas was gravely suppressed. On December 24, 1652, this proclamation became law: "No observance shall be had of the five and twentieth day of December, commonly called Christmas." (1)
With this enforced cessation of celebrating Christmas, good fellowship declined and the wealthy gradually failed to remember those who were in need of charitable acts of kindness. Needham's History of the Rebellion, written in 1661, expressed the general attitude of the citizens of England:
Gone are these golden days of yore,
When Christmas was a high day:
Whose sports we now shall see no more;
'Tis turned into Good Friday. (1)
England's Industrial Revolution polarized the social classes into even greater extremes...