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What is 'the Christmas spirit'? A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

To explore the meaning of ‘the Christmas spirit’ through a consideration of Charles Dickens’ classic story A Christmas Carol.

by Tim and Vicky Scott

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To explore the meaning of ‘the Christmas spirit’ through a consideration of Charles Dickens’ classic story A Christmas Carol.

Preparation and materials

  • A clip from the film The Muppet Christmas Carol or make a PowerPoint of some of the 200 different representations of Scrooge in film/television productions of the story.
  • Flip-chart and pens.


  1. Show the clip from the film The Muppet Christmas Carol or the PowerPoint of some of the 200 different representations of the story. Ask if anyone has seen a film version or read the book A Christmas Carol.
  2. Ask students what they think of when they hear the term ‘the Christmas spirit’ and write down their responses on a flip-chart.
  3. Next year is the 200-year anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, writer of many well-known books, including Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol.

    A Christmas Carol was published in December 1843. It’s one of the best loved of all the stories that are set at this time of year. It has been adapted into over 200 films, often shown on TV around Christmas time! It tells a timeless tale that has shaped our understanding of Christmas not only here within the UK but also in the USA and all over the world. Phrases such as ‘Bah! Humbug!’ and the name ‘Scrooge’ have come to embody the miserly attitude that takes people for granted and stifles the joy of living.

    Dickens’ story captures an attitude to life that many people have called ‘the Christmas spirit’. The Christmas spirit is the hopeful, generous and kind spirit that people show to one another at Christmas time. To believe in the Christmas spirit is to believe that this spirit is of greater value than material riches. In other words, who we are is more important than what we own.
  4. The main character of the book is a wealthy but mean, lonely, unkind, intimidating and unloving man called Ebenezer Scrooge. His life is entirely about making money. That is, until one Christmas Eve, when Scrooge receives a terrifying visit from the spirit of his old business partner, Jacob Marley, who died seven Christmas Eves earlier and was also a miser. Marley is in torment, doomed in death to walk forever through the world weighed down by heavy chains forged from his greedy and mean actions when he was alive.

    Marley has come to warn Scrooge not to make the same dreadful mistake. He says that Scrooge is to be haunted by three spirits and that this will give him a chance to change the direction of his life. Without their visits, there will be no hope for him.

    Scrooge is then visited first by the Ghost of Christmas Past, next by the Ghost of Christmas Present and finally by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who show him scenes from his past, present and future. The spirits confront and challenge Scrooge about his life, the effect it is having on those around him and its dreadful consequences. Scrooge realizes that he needs to change his ways and so alter his destiny. He pleads for a second chance and says, ‘I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.’

    When the last Spirit has left him, he awakes to find that it is Christmas morning. He has been given a fresh start, an opportunity to be more truly human in his actions towards others. Scrooge has finally been set free from the prison of his own making. He is transformed from a selfish, greedy and bitter old man into a grateful, generous and compassionate figure.
  5. Dickens seeks to teach his readers that they should not just live out the spirit of Christmas in December, but throughout the year too. He explores, through Scrooge’s ghostly experience, the love of money compared with the value of loving relationships.

    A Christmas Carol helps us to rediscover where our real Christmas joy can be found. It helps us to consider what is of lasting value here in the twenty-first century. It shows us that what counts is not how much money we have in the bank or how many material things we possess. This is not to deny that we all need money, but is a warning that the love of money can lead us into wanting more instead of being content and enjoying what we have already.
  6. The message of Christmas, Christians believe, is that Jesus comes to bring us a new start, forgiveness for the past and freedom from any chains of selfishness and greed that may bind us. God loves us and wants to help us to change and make a difference.

Time for reflection

The Christian evangelist J. John writes: ‘Dickens holds a mirror not just to Scrooge’s face, but also to ours. How do we treat the poor, the weak and the vulnerable? Do we allow our lifestyles to shield us from the needs of the poor and the downtrodden?’ (More Than a Christmas Carol, by J. John (Authentic, October 2010), page 16).

This Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, may God fill us with his joy, thankfulness and care for others, not just at Christmas, but throughout the New Year and all the years to come.

Dear Lord,
grant us the light of Christmas, which is faith;
the warmth of Christmas, which is love;
the radiance of Christmas, which is purity;
the righteousness of Christmas, which is justice;
the belief in Christmas, which is truth;
the all of Christmas, which is Christ.


Play the theme from A Muppet Christmas Carol or a favourite piece of Christmas music.

Publication date: December 2011   (Vol.13 No.12)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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