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  • Amy MacKinnon

A Little Dickens of a Ghost Story

Updated: Nov 29, 2020

Did it ever seem odd to you that when Charles Dickens sat down to write a story for Christmas...

He Wrote a Ghost Story? For Christmas!

When you've read or seen versions of A Christmas Carol, did you ever notice what a deeply Christian story it was?

Probably not

Did you wonder why it's called "A Christmas Carol" instead of something that refers to Ebeneezer Scrooge and ghosts? (Click here to read more about the Christianity that Dickens wrote into the story)

What is the meaning of that title? A carol is a song that is sung specifically for Christmas.

Interesting title, isn't it?

We're so used to seeing the story told, and re-told, that we don't really pay attention to that anymore. If I asked you what the story was about, would you say it was about:

  • Helping people?

  • Giving money to the poor?

  • Being nice to others?

  • Getting what you deserve (or trying not to)?

Those elements are all there in this story, as they are with pretty much everything Charles Dickens wrote, but there’s far more to this than that.

This is a story about the salvation of Ebeneezer Scrooge.

It’s a deeply, and intentionally, Christian story, but we don't usually think of it that way.

When you think of a Christian story, or a story by a Christian author, what authors come to your mind?

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, for many.

Sometimes G.K. Chesterton.

What about Charles Dickens?

After all, he did write, A Christmas Carol.

Does that really count though?

Feeding the hungry, and giving alms to the poor are definitely Christian virtues, but there are many who are not Christian who do that as well.

That isn't What This Story is About

Each of the characters that Scrooge interacts with are there to show him how far he has gone from the true meaning of Christmas. Dickens is very clear about what that meaning is, too.

It’s not just about charitable giving, or seeing Scrooge suffer the consequences of his actions.

Dickens uses the character of Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, to remind his Uncle Ebeneezer what the real meaning of Christmas and the Christmas carols are: the birth of the Savior.

That’s not just the ending, either.

Fred makes that connection for his uncle in the very beginning of the story, and again at the end of the story.

Why did Dickens Write a Ghost Story for Christmas?

I wrote a blog post about some of the reasons that we’re afraid of ghosts two weeks ago.

And last week I wrote another post about what ghosts really are.

When you think about ghosts and a holiday, like most people you probably think about Halloween.

But what about ghosts at Christmas? Why are those stories so popular at Christmastime?

What do Ghosts Have to do with Christmas?

Ghost stories were popular at Christmastime in the Victorian Era (and still are), because that’s when we celebrate the birth of the Savior.

That’s not a non-sequitur, either!

The reason for ghost stories in the Christian tradition was to remind us that our time here is short, and the way that we live our lives and the choices we make affect where we go when we die.

At Christmastime, when we celebrate the birth of the Savior, it’s not just about buying and giving presents.

It’s remembering:

  • That we need a savior

  • Who that Savior is

  • What He did for our salvation

  • That we freely choose to accept or reject His gift

And what does Charles Dickens do in the very beginning of his ghost story, which just happens to take place at Christmas?

He makes an immediate association between Christmas--the real reason for the celebration of Christmas--and the Savior who’s birth we’re celebrating, was born to die.

Dickens warms us up first, by constantly giving us references to death in relation to Scrooge:

  • He starts the story by affirming that Marley is most definitely dead (what a cheerful way to begin a Christmas story!)

  • Dickens refers to Scrooge as a "dead man walking"

  • There is an explicit statement by the author that something wonderful is going to happen in direct relation to death. That’s not typically found in today’s ghost stories...

  • The atmosphere is very bleak, and very dark

  • There is a reminder that it is Christmas Eve

But then he provides a very curious detail.

The detail that he gives us about the setting and time are definitely worth paying attention to:

The city clocks had only just gone three,

but it was quite dark already--it had not been light all day

When Dickens writes this, it's almost a side note of what time it is—3 o’clock—and that it’s dark out.

But Why did He Write That?

Because this is yet another reference to death!

Authors don’t add details like this without reasons.

And why would Dickens mention this at the same time he tells us that it’s Christmas Eve?

Because the next day is Christmas Day, the day when Christians celebrate the birth of the Savior, and this Savior who was born, was born to die.

Three o’clock and it’s dark—this is referring to Good Friday and the moment of Christ’s death when the world went dark, but that darkness led to the Resurrection and ultimately to Salvation.

This is the “wonderful” thing that Dickens prepares us for right from the start of the story: Christ saved us through His death and resurrection, so we should expect to see something resembling that in this story. And we definitely do...

And that’s just the beginning!

The entire story is about salvation, and conquering death

I definitely recommend reading—or re-reading—the original story "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens!

The film versions and the adaptations of the story can be well done stories, but they're just not the same as the original. It truly is a wonderful story!

This is the last of the “ghost posts” for now. If you want to read the two previous posts in this series, you can find them here:


If you’re curious about other hidden gems in what is possibly the best-known fictional story for Christmas, and also the best-known ghost story check out:

The course includes commentary on:

  • The characters and their importance in the salvation of Ebeneezer Scrooge

  • Each of the ghosts and why Dickens describes them

  • The story as an intentionally Christian story, not just one about giving money to the poor

  • PDF version of the original story by Dickens to download

Images used are by Arthur Rackham and John Leech, and all images used were published in the US before 1924 and are in the public domain.

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