A Christmas Carol

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Themes and Colors
Past, Present and Future – The Threat of Time Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Greed, Generosity and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Christmas and Tradition Theme Icon
Social Dissatisfaction and the Poor Laws Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Christmas Carol, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Christmas and Tradition Theme Icon

A Christmas Carol was published as a Christmas story, and takes the form of a Christian morality tale containing a moral lesson that the highly religious and traditional English population of Dickens’ time would enjoy. Its structure, with five “staves” instead of chapters, is a metaphor for a simple song, with a beginning, middle and end. Dickens uses the idea of singing to connect the story to the joyful Christian traditions of the season, such as caroling, while at the same filling it with more serious, politically-minded themes.

This theme has two aspects: Firstly, the festive, jolly Christmas atmosphere flourishes in the streets surrounding Scrooge’s company office, and the ethos of the nativity story is embodied in characters like Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, and Scrooge’s nephew – these characters are examples of goodness and charity, and show Scrooge the way to kindness. The love and strength of the Cratchit family despite their poverty shows the reader that the spirit of Christmas can defeat Scrooge’s spirit of misery. At the same time, Dickens uses the seasonal period around Christmas to highlight the sort of unfair and crushing poverty that the Cratchit’s face. The cold, bleak winter weather exacerbates the terrible privations poor families of the era had to face, and in presenting the poor in such extremes A Christmas Carol profoundly criticizes the laws, policies, and economic system that promote such poverty. In this way, by allowing Dickens to use the harshness of winter to portray the terrible difficulty of the life of the poor, Christmas served Dickens as a vehicle not just for showing Scrooge’s transformation but to appeal to readers’ Christianity as well in an effort to change a society that was organized in some ways that Dickens saw as being profoundly un-Christian.

Christmas and Tradition ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Christmas and Tradition appears in each chapter of A Christmas Carol. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Christmas and Tradition Quotes in A Christmas Carol

Below you will find the important quotes in A Christmas Carol related to the theme of Christmas and Tradition.
Stave 1 Quotes

'A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!' cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge's nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.
'Bah!' said Scrooge, 'Humbug!'

Related Characters: Ebenezer Scrooge (speaker), Fred Scrooge (speaker)
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

One cold Christmas Eve, seven years after Marley's death, Scrooge's nephew Fred comes into the business to invite his uncle to his Christmas day dinner. Scrooge immediately rejects the invitation, lamenting the fact that workers expect the day off with pay on such a holiday, and suggests that he, not his impoverished workers, is the one being taken advantage of. He is scornful of Fred's youthful joy, and tells him he shouldn't be so happy since he is poor. 

In this quote, Scrooge uses his signature phrase "Bah, Humbug!" to refute his nephew's well-wishes. "Bah" is a sound Scrooge uses to express scorn, and "humbug" means a lie or false behavior. Thus, Scrooge here denies both that Christmas is a merry time and that God will save him--or, perhaps, anyone. Scrooge's meanness extends even to himself--he is not fond of anyone or anything, including his own life or future. Scrooge sees so much negativity in the world that he does not find much merriness or salvation anywhere in his life or anyone else's. He is irritated when anyone suggests anything to the contrary, and thus a cheerful greeting such as this is exactly the sort of statement that grinds his gears. 

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Stave 2 Quotes

It was a strange figure-like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child's proportions.

Related Characters: The Ghost of Christmas Past
Related Symbols: Images of Age and Youth
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

When the ghost of Marley leaves, it tells Scrooge that he will be visited by three ghosts. The first one arrives as the clock strikes one o' clock, and tells him it is the Ghost of Christmas Past--not all Christmases past, but all of Scrooges'. 

This quote describes the ghost's appearance, which is both aged and youthful. The incongruity of its appearance--a child-like face and demeanor, but stooped and small like an old man--speaks to the tension between memories of the past and the time that has actually passed since Scrooge's childhood. The contrast between old and young within the same ghost shows the tactic by which he will attempt to educate Scrooge on the true meaning of Christmas and empathizing with his fellow men: he will show Scrooge how, over time, his fondness for the company of others was worn down by the trials of life. At one point, deep in the past, Scrooge did approach life with the optimistic joy of a child. The Ghost of Christmas Past will attempt to bring old Scrooge into the mindset he held as a young child, and show him how his current attitude is part circumstance and part pessimism--and he is now being given the chance to amend his ways. 

'The school is not quite deserted,' said the Ghost. 'A solitary child, neglected by his friends, is left there still.'
Scrooge said he knew it. And he sobbed.

Related Characters: The Ghost of Christmas Past (speaker), Ebenezer Scrooge
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

The Ghost of Christmas Past first brings Scrooge to his old boarding school, which he attended as a child. Though it is mostly deserted because the students went home for the holidays, young Scrooge remains behind for unclear reasons. In this quote, Scrooge weeps at the lonely memory. 

Thus far in the story, Scrooge has been a mean and unfeeling character, immune to the woes of others. This sudden onset of tears reveals Scrooge's hidden softer side, and shows his capacity for empathy, inspired by his younger self. The first stop on teaching Scrooge the error of his ways is showing him his own trials and tribulations--Scrooge, like everyone else, has a past full of both struggles and happiness, that has served to shape him into the man he is today. His meanness is not spontaneous or voluntary, just like other people's poverty is not due to laziness or a lack of morals. Opening up Scrooge to the realities of his past is the first step in teaching him the true meaning of generosity, charity, and of the Christmas spirit. 

Stave 3 Quotes

In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see, who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door.

Related Characters: Ebenezer Scrooge, The Ghost of Christmas Present
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

The second Ghost that visits Scrooge is the Ghost of Christmas Present. In this quote, the narrator describes his physical presence, which, though large and imposing, is friendly and genial. 

The Ghost's torch is symbolic of this Ghost's method of enlightening Scrooge as to the importance of being kind to others and having empathy. The Horn of Plenty (or "cornucopia") is a symbol of generosity and charity, qualities which Scrooge sorely lacks but which his next peek into others' present Christmases will soon inspire him to embody. The torch itself is utilized to both physically and metaphorically "shed its light on Scrooge." The Ghost will show Scrooge how other people in his life, like Bob Cratchit and Scrooge's nephew Fred, celebrate Christmas. This will illuminate him as to the woes and struggles of others, but also their willingness to put difficulties aside and enjoy the little things in life on the holiday occasion. The Ghost, in demeanor and likeness, is entirely the opposite of Scrooge--large, jolly, and generous. By showing Scrooge the happiness and joy that even a little bit of generosity can provide, Scrooge begins to make large strides in his journey towards learning to empathize with his fellow man. 

The sight of these poor revellers appeared to interest the Spirit very much, for he stood with Scrooge beside him in a baker's doorway, and taking off the covers as their bearers passed, sprinkled incense on their dinners from his torch.

Related Characters: Ebenezer Scrooge, The Ghost of Christmas Present
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

The Ghost takes Scrooge onto the streets of London, where everyone, rich and poor, is celebrating Christmas merrily. When they notice two people getting into an argument over dinner, the Ghost sprinkles incense from his horn of plenty onto their food. Immediately, the quarrel ends, as the arguers suddenly reason that there is no point fighting on the joyous day that is Christmas. 

In this quote, the Ghost shows Scrooge the merits of helping others, even if their misfortunes do not directly apply to him. The Ghost has no personal, vested interest in ensuring that these two people make amends, but it makes him happy to make them happy. Scrooge has more than enough wealth to do some good in the lives of those less fortunate, but refuses to engage in any kind of generosity, as he does not feel any impetus to help in the plight of others. He cites the poorhouse and jails as forms of welfare that already exist, thus, as he believes, rendering those who remain poor to be lazy and foolish for not finding ways to change their present situation. (Dickens was a famous opponent of both institutions, which did nothing to relieve poverty or crime.) In this quote, the Ghost shows Scrooge that just a little bit of generosity goes a long way, and can inspire a good feeling in both giver and receiver. Charity, Scrooge begins to learn, is a worthy cause regardless of whether he has any sort of tangible debt towards those less fortunate. He has more than he needs, and using his means to put a smile on another's face is cause enough to join the charitable spirit of Christmas. 

Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs Cratchit since their marriage. […]Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it
was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have been flat heresy to do so.

Related Characters: Bob Cratchit
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

The Ghost of Christmas Present brings Scrooge to the home of Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's clerk. Bob and his wife have many children, including one, Tiny Tim, who is very ill and walks using a crutch. Though the family is very poor, they are rich in love for each other, and greatly enjoy each other's company. In this quote, the narrator notes that everyone in the family praises the pudding Bob's wife has put out for Christmas dinner, even though it is too small for the entire family to take part in for a satisfying meal. The narrator also notes that it would have been "flat heresy" to comment on the meagerness of the dish, since the family knows that Mrs. Cratchit has done her best to provide with what they have. 

Scrooge, who previously scolded Fred for feeling merry despite his poverty, is here introduced to a family that has very little explicitly due to his greediness--they are poor because Scrooge pays Bob next to nothing. Yet, they are loving and grateful for what they do have. The visit to the Cratchit family dinner introduces Scrooge to the concept of being grateful for what one has, instead of being bitter for what one does not possess. The family members are loving and have each other, even if they are lacking in many other things. Yet Scrooge, who has means far beyond theirs, is bitter and mean because he lacks love. This scene helps Scrooge learn how to prioritize people above money and means. 

'God bless us every one!'

Related Characters: Tiny Tim (speaker)
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

At their Christmas meal, all of the members of the Cratchit family toast. Bob wishes his family a merry Christmas and asks God to bless them. In this quote, Tiny Tim pipes up with one of the most famous lines from the novella, "God bless us every one!" 

Though very young and frail, Tiny Tim maintains a good attitude, fueled by the love and care he is given from his family. He and his family know that his health is precarious such that he may not be at the table the following Christmas. Yet, despite his misfortune, he spreads love and good cheer, and wishes blessings upon every person he meets. This is the kind of sentiment that the Ghost wants Scrooge to learn: that everyone, poor or rich, deserves kindness and generosity. A world full of greed just begets more greed, whereas a world full of charity and goodness will beget more goodness. As the night progresses, Scrooge learns to embody the sentiments of the young, fragile boy, and to wish happiness upon everyone (particularly around Christmastime), regardless of their situation. 

Stave 4 Quotes

The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.

Related Characters: Ebenezer Scrooge, The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

The fourth Ghost that visits Scrooge is the Ghost of Christmas Future. In this quote, the Phantom is described as very somber, draped in a cloak, and reminiscent of the Grim Reaper. He is silent and grim, a direct contrast to the Ghosts of Past and Present. The Ghost's very demeanor brings Scrooge to his knees.

The morbidity that surrounds the presence of this Ghost, particularly compared to the youthful glow of the Ghost of Christmas Past and the jolly generosity of the Ghost of Christmas Present, is an ominous sign for Scrooge's Christmases to come. Though Christmas, as all of the Ghosts attempt to show Scrooge, is a time when generosity and charity are supposed to be available to all, if Scrooge does not change his ways, his future Christmases will be ones of misery and despair. Comparing his Christmases past, present, and future will inspire Scrooge to revise his attitude towards himself and his fellow man so that what he views as the future in its current state will never actually come to be. 

'Ghost of the Future!' he exclaimed, 'I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?'

Related Characters: Ebenezer Scrooge (speaker), The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

By the time the Ghost of Christmas Future comes to visit Scrooge, he has already learned his lesson: no good will ever come of his miserly ways, for himself or for the people around him. Yet, the Ghost refuses to address him, even though Scrooge entreats him to do so in this quote. 

Unlike the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, who help guide Scrooge to understand aspects of his past and present in order to learn his lesson about charity and empathy, the Ghost of Christmas Future does not speak to Scrooge. Rather, he brings him to the circumstances surrounding the death of an old man who was despised in life, and disparaged in death. Scrooge must realize for himself that this fate is to be his if he does not revise his attitude and moral sentiments. By refusing to speak to Scrooge, the Ghost ensures that this realization is entirely the old man's own, rendering the lesson much more powerful. 

Stave 5 Quotes

'I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!' Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. 'The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh, Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob, on my knees!'

Related Characters: Ebenezer Scrooge (speaker), Jacob Marley
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

After the final grim visit to the grave yard, Scrooge awakens the next day with a firm resolve to change his ways. In this quote, he thanks the Ghost of his one and only friend, Jacob Marley, for showing him the importance of rejecting their mutual miserly ways to avoid a purgatorial fate like his. 

Scrooge resolves to embody all three spirits: the youthful reminiscence of the Ghost of Christmas Past, the joy, understanding, and generosity of the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the somber foresight of the Ghost of Christmas Future. He knows now that it is important to understand one's own context and perspective, as well as those of others, to properly conduct oneself with kindness and charity. Scrooge has some good reasons for acting particularly bitter around Christmas--there are unhappy memories from his past that make the holiday a sore subject--but he also has very happy memories that he has now learned to try and evoke, such as old Fizziwig's ball. As he has awoken on Christmas Day itself, he now has the chance to evoke the spirit of Christmas Present, and immediately spread joy and generosity on the people who deserve and need it. 

He went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk – that anything – could give him so much happiness.

Related Characters: Ebenezer Scrooge
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

Scrooge dashes out of his house, eager for the first time in years to interact with and enjoy the presence of his neighbors. For the first time, he derives pleasure from seeing people come and go, and delights at the very feeling of such happiness. 

In this quote, Scrooge embodies for the first time the true spirit of Christmas as it has been imparted on him in the night. Though he has valued only business and money for decades, he suddenly realizes that it did not actually provide him with any happiness to make and hoard his wealth. His journeys with the Ghosts have shown him the importance of prioritizing the presence of people in his life, and the great gift of having the means to be generous and charitable. When he is dead and gone, he will not be able to enjoy his wealth and bitterness in the afterlife--the only thing he will be able to carry with him are the memories of his interactions with his fellow man. Marley, for his part, is bound to bear the weight of his meanness and miserly ways in the form of heavy chains. (He seemingly wasn't given the same supernatural aid as Scrooge.) Scrooge, now that he has understood the true meaning of empathy, charity, and of Christmas (as a kind of charitable ideal, not the literal Christian meaning), is free--in his present, and presumably after his death as well. 

'Now, I'll tell you what, my friend,' said Scrooge, 'I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore,' he continued, leaping from his stool, and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again; 'and therefore I am about to raise your salary!'

Related Characters: Ebenezer Scrooge (speaker), Bob Cratchit
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

The day after Christmas, Bob Cratchit arrives late to work. In this quote, Scrooge pretends that he is furious at this indiscretion and is about to fire Bob. Instead, he announces that he is going to give him a raise to his salary.

After having learned the true meaning of empathy and generosity, Scrooge enjoys pranking Bob using his previously cruel attitude. He is completely aware of how cruel he has been up until now, and how much people resent him for his meanness. He knows that Bob needs the money much more than he does, due to the illness of his son Tiny Tim. Thus, for the first time, Scrooge is delighted at the prospect of giving away his money to someone who needs it more than he does--the definition of charity and generosity. Scrooge now derives joy from being kind to his fellow man, and as he soon learns, being kind to others usually means they will be kind to you. Thanks to his warning from Marley and the lessons of the Ghosts, Scrooge lives out his days in happiness and in happy company, embodying Tiny Tim's sentiment of "God bless us, every one"--and thus Dickens' moral fable ends neatly and happily.