It is Christmas Eve, seven years since the death of Jacob Marley, the business partner and only friend of Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge is in his counting house, keeping a cruel monopoly on the coal supply and keeping his clerk Bob Cratchit in the cold. Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, makes a visit, but his incessant seasonal merriness aggravates Scrooge, and he says “Humbug!” to Fred’s idea that he spend Christmas dinner at Fred's house. The next visit is from two gentlemen collecting for the poor, but Scrooge believes in keeping the poor in the workhouses and sends them away.
When Scrooge arrives home, he is greeted by a series of spooky apparitions. First, his door knocker turns into Jacob Marley’s face. Scrooge refuses to believe his senses and hurries upstairs. But he is visited again, this time by the full-length spirit of Marley, bound in a huge, clanking chain. Marley’s ghost tells Scrooge that he has been wandering the earth trying to undo the wrongs that he neglected in his lifetime. He warns that Scrooge is headed for the same fate, an even worse one considering his horrible spirit. Marley tells Scrooge that he will be visited by three spirits on the next three nights. Marley then disappears, and Scrooge falls into a deep sleep.
When Scrooge wakes up, it is still dark, as if no time has passed. He is greeted by the first spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Past, a candle-like apparition that is brightly glowing and reminds Scrooge of youth and age at the same time. He flies Scrooge through the window and they pass over the scenes of Scrooge’s youth, firstly witnessing his lonely days in the schoolroom until his sister Fan comes to bring him home. Then, they see Scrooge as an apprentice with the Fezziwigs – it is a joyous time of parties and music. Then, Scrooge sees the moment that his fiancée Belle broke off their engagement because of Scrooge’s single-minded focus on making money. Scrooge is upset by this vision. The spirit is extinguished and Scrooge falls asleep.
The next time Scrooge wakes, there is a warm light coming into the room and he finds the Ghost of Christmas Present, a gentle giant in a fur robe, sitting atop a feast of Christmas food. This spirit takes Scrooge through the town, invisibly visiting the merry townspeople and sprinkling the spirit’s magic incense on their dinners to make them filled with joy. They visit Bob Cratchit’s house, where Bob’s large, hard-working family are happily preparing for Christmas. Bob brings his crippled son Tiny Tim home and tells his wife that the poor lad is doing better. Tim’s bravery touches Scrooge, but the spirit cannot promise Scrooge that Tim will be alive much longer. Then, they go to Scrooge’s nephew’s house and watch the party sing and play games, often making fun of Uncle Scrooge. Scrooge starts having fun invisibly playing along with the games but the spirit’s time is running out. He reveals two impoverished children sheltering under his robe, called Ignorance and Want and tells Scrooge to beware of Ignorance most of all.
The next night, the third and final spirit comes towards Scrooge, enrobed in a black cloak, so that all Scrooge can see is his eerily pointing bony hand. Scrooge is terrified but eager to learn the lessons of this ghost. He is led to the trading district, where businessmen are casually discussing the death of a miserly man. Then they witness a group of scavengers, trading in the dead man’s possessions for money. Scrooge is transported to a dark room, where he sees the corpse itself, covered with a cloth. He begs to see some tender emotions or tears shed for this man’s death, but all the ghost can show him is a family who are relieved at his death because it lifts their debt, and the house of Bob Cratchit, which is overcome with grief at the loss of poor Tiny Tim. Lastly, the spirit points Scrooge to a grave in a churchyard—the grave of the mysterious dead man—and Scrooge sees his own name engraved. He is beside himself with fear and sadness, and desperately promises the spirit that he will keep Christmas in his heart from now on. But the spirit vanishes, leaving Scrooge in tears.
Scrooge wakes up and is overjoyed that he has the chance to change the future. He laughs and shakes uncontrollably, and, upon discovering that it is Christmas morning, he joyfully sends a prize turkey to Bob Cratchit’s house. He says Merry Christmas to everyone he meets on the street, and goes to his nephew’s to celebrate and play games. The next day he gives Cratchit a raise, and over the ensuing years helps ensure that Tiny Tim not only survives but thrives and becomes known for his Christmas spirit.