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We begin staging A Christmas Carol this week, and we sometimes like to teach our casts a little background and history too. (But don’t tell them that they’re learning anything!) Here’s some of the history that we’ll share with the cast.

Scrooge and Cratchit
“Scrooge and Bob Cratchit,” or “The Christmas Bowl,” an original illustration by John Leech in the first printing of “A Christmas Carol”

A Christmas Carol is a novella (a short novel) written by Charles Dickens (1812-1870) and first published in London in December 1843.

As a boy, Dickens left school to work in a factory when his father was sent to prison for not paying his bills. Despite not getting a formal education, Dickens edited a weekly journal for twenty years, wrote fifteen novels, five novellas, and hundreds of short stories, non-fiction articles, lectures, and letters. He also greatly supported children’s rights, education, and other social reforms.

A Christmas Carol was written at a time when the British were rediscovering Christmas traditions from the past and developing new customs such as Christmas cards, Christmas trees, and Christmas caroling. For over 170 years, the book has never been out of print, and has been adapted to plays, operas, musicals, and films.

If the present scenes of A Christmas Carol take place in 1843, here’s what was happening in the world:

  • Victoria was queen of the British Empire
  • John Tyler was President of the United States
  • There was still no electricity or cars; streets were lit by gaslights, and people traveled by horse and carriage; in many homes, candles and oil lamps were still used for lighting
  • London was experiencing its biggest population increases ever; there was a large gap in social classes between the rich and poor, and children of lower class families were expected to work in factories
The Fezziwigs
“Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball,” an original illustration by John Leech in the first printing of “A Christmas Carol”

If we guess that Ebenezer Scrooge was an old man in his 60s (the average life expectancy was just over 40), he may have been born around 1780. In that year:

  • George III was king of Great Britain
  • There was not yet a President in the United States; Samuel Huntington of Connecticut was President of the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia
  • Great Britain and the United States were still fighting the American Revolutionary War; it would end in 1783
  • There was not yet gas lighting; streets were lit with candles and oil lamps

Continuing on the timeline of Scrooge’s life, he may have finished his apprenticeship with Fezziwig around 1800. In that year:

  • George III was still king of Great Britain (he would be until 1820)
  • John Adams was President of the United States, but Thomas Jefferson was elected and would become President in March 1801 (with Aaron Burr as Vice President)
  • Gas lighting was being developed and would be used on London streets by 1807

A Christmas Carol will be performed at Holmes Elementary School by a cast of thirty-eight children and teens on December 4, 5 and 6. Tickets will go on sale in October.

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