illustration of Ebenezer Scrooge in silhouette walking toward a Christmas tree and followed by the three ghosts

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens

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What joke did the Cratchit family play on Bob Cratchit when he returned home in A Christmas Carol?

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In stave 3, "The Second of the Three Spirits," of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Christmas Present has brought Ebenezer Scrooge to the Cratchit's humble home in Camden Town, a poorer section of London.

It's Christmas Day, and Mrs. Cratchit and what seems like a dozen Cratchit children are running around the kitchen, hard at work preparing their Christmas dinner. The family is anticipating the arrival of their father, Bob Cratchit, likely carrying Tiny Tim on his shoulder. They've also been waiting for Martha, the Cratchit's eldest daughter, to get away from her job as an apprentice at a milliners in the city.

“What has ever got your precious father then?” said Mrs. Cratchit. “And your brother, Tiny Tim! And Martha warn’t as late last Christmas Day by half-an-hour?”

“Here’s Martha, mother!”

In Martha comes to multiple hugs and kisses from her mother and her siblings, helping her off with her shawl and bonnet. Before she has a chance to sit down and "have a warm" by the fire, the two youngest Cratchits see their father coming down the way.

“Hide, Martha, hide!”

Martha quickly hides—and none too soon, since Bob Cratchit is just then coming in the door, panting like a "blood horse" (a thoroughbred race horse) after his gallop from the church to home with Tiny Tim on his shoulder.

Bob does a quick head count and comes up one short.

“Why, where’s our Martha?” cried Bob Cratchit, looking round.

“Not coming,” said Mrs. Cratchit.

“Not coming!” said Bob . . . “Not coming upon Christmas Day!”

Martha doesn't like to disappoint her father, even if it is just a little joke, so she pops out from behind the closet door "and [runs] into his arms."

After some last-minute hustling and bustling in the kitchen, dinner is served, and when the dinner is done, the Cratchits gather together around the hearth.

Then Bob proposes:

“A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!”

Which all the family re-echoes:

“God bless us every one!” said Tiny Tim, the last of all.

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