In stave 2, "The First of the Three Spirits," of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Ebenezer Scrooge on a journey into the past—Scrooge's past—which begins with a walk down a country road near Scrooge's childhood home near an idyllic, riverside market town. The scene with Scrooge's childhood friends calling out "Merry Christmas" to each other is a happy scene, in contrast to the scene of young Ebenezer sitting alone and forlorn at Christmas in a deserted classroom at his boarding school. Seeing himself, sitting there reading without another person to be seen or heard, Scrooge remembers the boy singing Christmas carols outside Scrooge's countinghouse who Scrooge chased away with a ruler in stave 1.
“I wish,” Scrooge muttered, putting his hand in his pocket, and looking about him, after drying his eyes with his cuff: “but it’s too late now.”
“What is the matter?” asked the Spirit.
“Nothing,” said Scrooge. “Nothing. There was a boy singing a Christmas Carol at my door last night. I should like to have given him something: that’s all.”
Scrooge is reminded to be tolerant of those who are less fortunate than he is who simply want to brighten the lives of others without hoping to profit from their good deeds.
Another Christmas finds Scrooge again sitting alone at the boarding school, but this time Scrooge's young sister, Fan, comes to rescue him and take him back home.
The spirit recalls for Scrooge that Fan was "a delicate creature" and that "she had a large heart!"
“She died a woman,” said the Ghost, “and had, as I think, children.”
“One child,” Scrooge returned.
“True,” said the Ghost. “Your nephew! "
Fan's child and Scrooge's nephew is Fred, the young man whose invitation to Christmas dinner Scrooge rudely rejected and who Scrooge all but threw out of his countinghouse on Christmas Eve in stave 1.
Scrooge resents Fred for some unstated reason—perhaps for Fan's death—but Scrooge is beginning to learn to hold onto cherished memories of loved ones and about the importance of family.
The Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to the warehouse where Scrooge was apprenticed as a young man. Scrooge is reminded of the value of friendship and camaraderie and learns a lesson about being a kindly, generous employer, like Mr. Fezziwig. Scrooge observes, "The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune" (stave 2).
Scrooge thinks about his own employee, Bob Cratchit.
I should like to be able to say a word or two to my clerk just now. That’s all.
The spirit shows Scrooge two scenes with Belle, a young woman who was Scrooge's one true love and with whom a young Ebenezer Scrooge was engaged to be married.
In the first scene with Belle, Scrooge sees how he's changed from a person happy and content with his life to a person obsessed with accumulating money, to the exclusion of everything else in his life, including Belle.
The second scene with Belle occurs when Belle is older, married, and with a family of her own, including a daughter who looks very much like Belle herself. The scene takes place just seven years ago when Scrooge's partner, Jacob Marley, "lies at the point of death." Belle's husband remarks how he's just seen Scrooge sitting alone in his countinghouse, "quite alone in the world."
This scene is interesting because, unlike all the other scenes that the Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge, this is the only scene from Scrooge's past in which Scrooge didn't experience the events in the scene himself and which isn't part of Scrooge's own memories. The spirit shows Scrooge this scene to remind him about the importance of love, relationships, and family, and to teach Scrooge that his rejection of these things, as well as his rejection of friendship, camaraderie, tolerance, kindness, and generosity have left him "quite alone in the world."