Christmas was still an issue in 19th c. England, but it had come a long way from Cromwell's day, when gift-giving on Christmas was punished by a stiff fine, equivalent to $8000 in today's money. In the 18th century, Calvinists still tended to view it as a popish celebration. Puritans believed that the only Holy Day should be the Sabbath. Rather than encouraging children to behave well to please Santa Claus, Christmas could have the opposite effect in terms of drunken revelries and carousing. In New England, meanwhile, Christmas was still outlawed in Dickens' day.
By the advent of the Victorian Era in the 19th century, things had changed in England. The Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church revived traditional religious celebrations associated with the Christmas season. Christmas cards, gift-giving, caroling and Christmas trees all became popular. Railways enabled people to travel more easily during the holidays to be with their families, and shops did a brisk business in Christmas-related goods. The royal family celebrated the Christmas at Windsor Castle.
As for Dickens, he may not have been an orthodox Christian but he was passionate in his opposition to Christian hypocrisy that led some to turn a blind eye to the suffering of others. Scrooge was the encapsulation of this uncaring puritanical attitude, believing that "the poor you will always have with you" and that God had predestined to the Elect to wealth though the virtues of thrift and hard work. A Christmas Carol thus had the paradoxical effect of diminishing the moral basis of the Protestant work ethic while simultaneously celebrating the Gospel message of love for one's neighbor. Much to the dismay of some, it also contributed to making pagan festivities acceptable again. G. K. Chesterton wrote:
"In fighting for Christmas [Dickens] was fighting for the old European
festival," since the winter celebration was "one of numberless old
European feasts of which the essence is the combination of religion
A Christmas Carol was hugely popular. It was first published on December 19, 1843 and had sold out by Christmas Eve. By 1844, it had gone through 13 printings. Like today's most popular movies, it also spawned many pirated editions so that Dickens did not profit from sales as much as he should have. There is little doubt that his book was the most important literary factor in the revival of Christmas in England.
To a great extent Dickens rode the the Victorian Age's Christmas wave. But he also urged it on to powerful effect.