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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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Scrooge awakens in his bed, fully expecting the next messenger sent to him through Jacob Marley. He feels ready for anything and is thus quite shocked when the clock strikes one yet again and nothing happens at all. Scrooge shuffles to his door and hears his name, then proceeds.

He steps into a room similar to his own, yet decorated in greenery and filled with various foods. A glorious giant rests on a couch and bids Scrooge to enter and “know [him] better.” Scrooge does as instructed.

The giant introduces himself as the Ghost of Christmas Present. He wears a green robe, a wreath of holly, and no shoes.

Scrooge asks the ghost to teach him a lesson, if it is possible, and the spirit instructs him to touch his green robe. Scrooge does so and finds himself standing in the festive city streets on Christmas morning, where he begins to take in the people and events surrounding him. Scrooge notices that, occasionally, as poor revelers pass with their dinners, the Ghost of Christmas Present sprinkles “incense” on their dinners from his torch. And when people are caught in a disagreement, they too receive a sprinkling from the torch, which causes the bickering to stop immediately.

The Ghost of Christmas Present transports Scrooge to Bob Cratchit’s house and stops to sprinkle a blessing on his home. Scrooge finds this incredible, as Bob makes so little money yet has somehow gained the favor of this spirit.

The Cratchit family is dressed in poor garments but makes the best of the resources they have. Dinner is being prepared, and the family begins to worry about where Bob, Tiny Tim, and Martha are. Martha appears, much to the delight of her family, and they devise a plan to trick their father, who is following soon after her.

Bob appears with Tiny Tim on his shoulders, and Martha remains in a hiding place. When Bob asks about her location, the family tells him that she isn’t able to make it. Bob is visibly disappointed, and this pains Martha, who rushes from her hiding place as the room overflows in warm and tender exchanges.

Dinner is readied, and a feast commences. Bob is especially complimentary of his wife’s cooking talents, gushing over the goose and the pudding. Bob looks around at his family and warmly wishes them all a merry Christmas. Tiny Tim adds,

God bless us every one!

The boy touches something deep within Scrooge, who implores the spirit to tell him if the young child will live. The Ghost of Christmas Present replies that he sees an empty chair and a crutch without an owner if the future remains unaltered. Scrooge is crushed.

The scene shifts back to the Cratchit household, where Mrs. Cratchit has some stern words about Scrooge. After a bit of chastisement from her husband to remember the spirit of the day, she ultimately toasts a “long life” to Scrooge.

As he watches the scene thereafter, Scrooge notes that the family is not remarkable in any way. They wear plain clothes, are not beautiful people, and have poorly made shoes. Yet somehow they are happy. This, and particularly the joy of young Tiny Tim, confounds Scrooge.

Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present pass other scenes of Christmas, including the home of poor miners and a dark ship.

Suddenly, Scrooge finds himself at his nephew’s party. The group begins to discuss Scrooge, noting that he has plenty of money, but it does him no good. Scrooge’s nephew says that he feels sorry for his uncle and vows to continue to visit Scrooge year after year, if only in the hope that it may benefit Scrooge’s employees eventually.

A great party commences, filled with tea, dancing, and music. Scrooge’s nephew wishes his absent uncle a merry Christmas, and the spirit whisks Scrooge away once again.

The continue on their journey, passing sickbeds, foreign lands, and jails. The spirit stops to bless each person he visits.

The Ghost of Christmas Present tells Scrooge that his time is coming to an end when Scrooge notes something protruding from the folds of the spirit’s green robe and inquires about what this may be. The spirit produces two children who are “wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable.” This boy and girl—Ignorance and Want—belong to humankind.

The clock strikes twelve, the Ghost of Christmas Present disappears, and a solemn phantom comes “like a mist” toward Scrooge.

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