19th December, Marley’s Ghost
Much of what we now think of as Christmas comes from the writings of Charles Dickens and in particular “A Christmas Carol,” his famous ghost story of 1843 which opens -
Marley was dead to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
Ebenezer Scrooge is a miserable old man who works in his counting house with his clerk, Bob Cratchit, who writes out records of accounts while Scrooge oversees the business.
On Christmas Eve, Scrooge receives several visitors. First, his nephew who invites Scrooge to dine with him for Christmas. Next come two gentlemen, collecting for charity, and we discover from them that Scrooge’s partner, Jacob Marley, died on Christmas Eve seven years previously. Yet Scrooge refuses to give them anything, declaring he helps the poor already through supporting prisons and workhouses. Closing up the office, Scrooge permits Bob a holiday on Christmas Day, but insists he come back to work early next morning – Boxing Day was not usually a holiday in the nineteenth century, but the day when tradesmen collected their Christmas “boxes” – tips from their customers.
That evening, at his lodging Scrooge is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley weighed down by massive chains made up of cashboxes, keys and padlocks. The ghost says that anyone who does not mix with others in life must travel amongst them after death and tells Scrooge that he too wears a chain, even larger, and warns of three spirits which will visit that night…
Illustration copyright © Paul Bommer