Profs & Pints DC: How Dickens “Invented” Christmas

By Profs and Pints (other events)

Monday, December 18 2023 6:00 PM 8:30 PM EDT

Advance ticket sales have ended but plenty of additional tickets remain available at the door.

Profs and Pints DC presents: “How Dickens ‘Invented’ Christmas,” on the beloved British author's fascinating life and profound impact on a holiday, with John Pfordresher, an emeritus professor of English at Georgetown University who has taught courses on Charles Dickens for more than 50 years.

Only an unrepentant Scrooge would say “bah humbug” to this evening with Professor John Pfordresher, who, along with extensively researching and teaching Charles Dickens, curated his university library's 2012 exhibition, “Dickens at Georgetown.” He'll give a talk that will make Dickens come to life as a compelling figure and leave you with a newfound appreciation and respect for A Christmas Carol as a social commentary and publishing phenomenon that changed thinking about the holiday season. 

We'll start our scholarly journey through time in December of 1843, just before a Christmas past. Chapman and Hall published A Christmas Carol as a deluxe Christmas book bound in cloth, with gilt edges, four color engravings and four more black-and-white wood cuts. Priced at a relatively low five shillings, it sold 6,000 copies before Christmas Eve. Critical response was largely rhapsodic. The already celebrated satirist William Makepeace Thackeray described the book as “a national benefit and to every man or woman who reads it, a personal kindness.”

Flash ahead to Christmas present. In the years since its publication, this little book has achieved an unusual presence in western culture. The basis of many theater productions, films, and television shows, its characters, and some of their catch phrases, have entered in many ways into the ways that people celebrate the darkest days of the year and their hopes for brighter days ahead.

Dickens, more than any other figure, transformed an old religious tradition into a season of compassionate care for those in need. The book emerged from his own indignation at the suffering of the poor he witnessed first-hand, and the callous indifference voiced by many of his contemporaries to those sufferings. Scrooge became the embodiment of a money-hungry capitalism Dickens had been attacking for years, and his radiant conversion became a model for a Christmas of personal generosity to others and convivial celebration of the pleasures of life.

This talk on Dickens and his immortal work will fill you with the spirit of Christmas present and looking forward to Christmases future. (Advance tickets: $13.50 plus sales tax and processing fees. Doors: $17, or $15 with a student ID. Listed time is for doors. Talk starts 30 minutes later.)

Image: Charles Dickens in 1842, a year before the publication of A Christmas Carol. (Portrait by Francis Alexander.)