A Christmas Carol: Why Did Dickens Call It A Carol?

In early December of 1843, Charles Dickens completed the manuscript for a little ghost story about Christmas. He called it A Christmas Carol and the publisher printed the first copies a week before Christmas. By Christmas Eve all 6000 printed copies were sold. The story was overwhelmingly received, being read and repeated in homes throughout London.

Charles Dickens had conceived the idea of writing a Christmas story less than three months earlier. The idea was partially a response to his urgent need to produce some additional income. His publisher had informed Dickens that sales of his novels were not as great as expected and that he would have to reduce the advance income due Dickens until sales increased.

Dickens described his writing plan as "a little scheme," but as the writing of the story progressed, Dickens was overwhelmed by the story's joyful message. He said that during the writing he "wept, and laughed, and wept again." The little ghost story became a special project that Dickens became passionate about and finished quickly.

Charles Dickens insisted that the book contain numerous woodcuts and etchings and be well-bound. Then he also insisted that it should sell for the small price of five shillings to make it affordable to a wide audience. The book was no longer part of a personal economic plan but was a gift from Dickens to the imaginations of families everywhere and a blessing to everyone.

Dickens called his story A Christmas Carol because he expected the story to be repeated and shared and to bring people together just as the singing of Christmas carols spread joy and brought families together each season throughout London. His carol was a song of praise of the Christmas season and of the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Cleverly, Dickens called the five chapters of the book "staves." A musical stave is a stanza with a consistent theme and mood. Each stave in the story delivers a different message and each has a definite mood. As in a carol each stave can stand alone but each contributes to the carol's overall theme.

A good carol also contains a memorable refrain, repeated at appropriate times throughout. In Dickens' A Christmas Carol the refrain is no doubt the blessing from Tiny Tim, "God bless us every one!" It's a refrain that has been repeated countless times since the publishing of A Christmas Carol.

The story sings the praises of the sentiments of the Christmas season in a memorable way and will be repeated as long as carols and the Christmas season endure.

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