The Christmas Spirit
GCSE Exam Question & Answer
Read the following extract from Stave 3: The Second of the Three Spirits. Answer both questions below the text.
At this point in the story, the Ghost of Christmas Present is taking Scrooge around London to see people celebrating Christmas Day.
But soon the steeples called good people all, to church and chapel, and away they came, flocking through the streets in their best clothes, and with their gayest faces. And at the same time there emerged from scores of bye-streets, lanes, and nameless turnings, innumerable people, carrying their dinners to the bakers’ shops. 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. And it was a very uncommon kind of torch, for once or twice when there were angry words between some dinner-carriers who had jostled each other, he shed a few drops of water on them from it, and their good humour was restored directly. For they said, it was a shame to quarrel upon Christmas Day. And so it was! God love it, so it was!
In time the bells ceased, and the bakers were shut up; and yet there was a genial shadowing forth of all these dinners and the progress of their cooking, in the thawed blotch of wet above each baker’s oven; where the pavement smoked as if its stones were cooking too.
“Is there a peculiar flavour in what you sprinkle from your torch?” asked Scrooge.
“There is. My own.”
“Would it apply to any kind of dinner on this day?” asked Scrooge.
“To any kindly given. To a poor one most.”
“Why to a poor one most?” asked Scrooge.
“Because it needs it most.”
a) How is the idea of the Christmas Spirit explored in this extract?
b) How is the idea of the Christmas Spirit explored in the novella?
Make the point that the Christmas Spirit is seen as bringing great joy
There is a sense of celebration in this extract as the people set off for church on Christmas Day in their ‘best clothes’, suggesting that this is a very special occasion. They also show their ‘gayest’ faces; the superlative ‘gayest’ tells us that there is no greater cause for joy than this special day. This sense of joy in Christmas Day is seen elsewhere in the novella, such as in the Cratchits’ house with the chestnuts on the fire (that) ‘sputtered and crackled noisily’. The onomatopoeic verbs help create the warm, vibrant atmosphere of Bob’s poor house. Dickens uses the symbol of the blazing fire which is heating the food to show how rich the Cratchits are in goodwill and Christmas spirit and, by showing Scrooge the happy family scene, the ghost is helping to show Scrooge how cold and bleak his own life is in comparison to Bob’s happy life. Christmas traditions were relatively new in the 1840s as the Industrial Revolution had meant a national shift of focus from rural countryside to cities. The traditions of Christmas were seen as belonging to the countryside but Dickens helps establishes new Christmas traditions, such as roasting chestnuts and the Christmas pudding, through the novella.
Make the point that the Christmas Spirit is used to teach humanity to Scrooge
The Ghost of Christmas Spirit sprinkles his blessings on the food of the poor people, explaining that the poor dinner is blessed most ‘because it needs it most’. This clear, direct statement reminds Scrooge, and the readers, that the poor are in great need of help and generosity, perhaps especially at Christmas. This is a theme that runs throughout the novella; in Stave One, Fred describes how Christmas is a time for everyone to open up their hearts and show humanity to all people in society, to ‘think of people below them… as fellow-passengers to the grave and not another race of creatures’. The lexical choice ‘fellow-passengers’ suggests equality and reminds the reader that we are all human beings, no matter how rich or poor we are, with responsibilities towards one another. Dickens, who suffered hardship himself as a boy, uses Fred as his mouth-piece here to present his own strong feelings about the inequality in Victorian Britain, reminding the readers to be charitable and generous at Christmas time.
Move to the point that the Christmas Spirit can bring about change in society
The power of the Christmas Spirit is shown as the ghost sprinkles water on the angry dinner-carriers. This has the effect of soothing the tempers so that ‘good humour was restored directly’. The adverb ‘directly’ illustrates how the Christmas Spirit can create fast and effective change because the people acknowledge that ‘it was a shame to quarrel upon Christmas Day’. This again reminds us of the special nature of Christmas and the intrusive narrator reaffirms this with the interjection ‘and so it was! God love it, so it was!’ We wonder whether, if it can have such a powerful effect on just a few people, then it can change society on a much larger scale. We also see Scrooge changing in this extract as he engages with the ghost and the scenarios in front of him, asking questions and actively taking an interest whereas at the beginning he was withdrawn from society, as ‘solitary as an oyster’.
Develop this point that the Christmas Spirit shows change and redemption
The novella tracks the enormous change in Scrooge’s character, showing how he is redeemed through the Christmas ghosts. At the beginning of the novella, he is isolated and miserly and utterly unaffected by Christmas, dismissing the festival’s goodwill with ‘bah! Humbug!’. Yet by the end, Scrooge connects with humanity as he cries, ‘I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy’. The Christmas ghosts have changed Scrooge and the repetitive sentence structure of similes highlights his newfound positivity. There is a sense of Christian goodness with the comparison to an angel and genuine joy in the comparison to a school-boy. He is now a man who fully embraces the joys of goodwill at Christmas and the mirrored structure that Dickens uses emphasises how much the Christmas spirit can change us.
Explore whether the idea of the Christmas Spirit is based on Christian ideas of the religious festival
The Christmas Spirit is closely linked with that of Christianity as Scrooge is described as a ‘sinner’ and the Ghosts work to redeem him from the vice of avarice. The Ghost of Christmas Past is described as having a ‘bright clear jet of light’ that ‘sprung’ from his head and so is linked to Jesus Christ, who was named the ‘Light of the World’ and died to redeem mankind’s sin. Christianity was a cornerstone of Victorian society and the festival of Christmas to celebrate the birth of Christ was a holy day; this is evident in the extract as the ’steeples called good people all, to church and chapel’. However, Dickens draws on pagan ideas in his portrayal of the Christmas spirit; the Ghost of Christmas Present holds a torch which resembles the Horn of Plenty from Greek/Roman mythology. The focus of the novella is perhaps more on humanity than religion. Interestingly, Dickens often criticised established religion and its practices. An example of this is his rejection of Sabbatarianism, a practice which promoted keeping Sunday as a strict day of rest which meant that bakers’ shops were forced to close and the poor had no means of cooking on the one day off. We see this in the extract as ‘innumerable people (are) carrying their dinners to the bakers’ shops’. Dickens uses the word ‘innumerable’ to remind the readers of the huge numbers of people who went hungry because of Sabbatarianism, and in the extract the ghost is ‘very much’ interested in these people, yet again reminding us that we have a common duty, regardless of religion, to show responsibility for the poor, at Christmas but also throughout the year.
Essential Exam Tips
- Re-read the novella about a fortnight before the exam. Aim to read a chapter every night.
- Ask friends/parents/siblings to test you on your quotations. You should know 50 quotations for each text. This sounds daunting but think how easy it is to remember ‘bah! Humbug!’ or ‘one coal’.