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Catholic Thoughts on A Christmas Carol


Charles Dickens’s 1843 Christmas Carol was the beginning of a series of annual “Christmas books” that were very popular gifts in the Victorian era. But while many today treat A Christmas Carol as a child’s holiday story, it is anything but … and it makes many Catholic points.

Some might disagree. Jesus is only obliquely mentioned (e.g., Marley laments why he failed to follow the “blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode”) and religion is worn lightly (e.g., a Christmas service is only mentioned as the place from which Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim return while, otherwise, there’s a whole lot of eating going on). Perhaps, on a superficial level, the explicitly religious is practically absent, but that’s not to say there are not religious lessons to be learned from the Carol. Here are four.

Death Gives Life Its Meaning. Advent is marked by a tension between the historic commemoration of the First Coming and the eschatological expectation of His Second. The Carol, too, has a strong eschatological note. This Christmas story opens not with a “ho-ho-ho” but the frank acknowledgement of a death: “Marley was dead, to begin with.” Lest the reader fail to appreciate the significance of that line, Dickens states clearly: “There is no doubt that Marley was dead.  This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.” And just as many Catholic saints kept a skull to remind them of the end—hodie mihi, cras tibi (Yesterday me, tomorrow you)—so Marley is Scrooge’s memento mori: it is between Scrooge’s encounter with Marley and his face-to-face encounter with his own tombstone, under the gaze of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (who is, as many note, none other than the Grim Reaper), that Scrooge is converted. Some are changed by love (contrition), others by fear (attrition)—but change they do.


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