Why we love ‘A Christmas Carol’ — especially this year

A Christmas Carol is as much a part of the holiday season as, well, actual Christmas carols.

VIDEO: The kids of “A Christmas Carol”

The Goodman Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol” has been a Chicago holiday tradition for more than three decades. So we sat down with four kids in the cast to talk about what this family favorite means to them — and what’s on their holiday wish list.

Watch full-screen>>

Our ears perk at “Bah! Humbug,” and our hearts melt a little when Tiny Tim delivers his classic line, “God bless us, everyone!”

And since its publication more than 150 years ago, the story has spawned dozens of stage, movie and television adaptations. The online movie and television database IMDB returns more than 30 results, ranging from a 1910 silent adaptation that ran 11 minutes long to Disney’s 2009 3-D release. The Muppets, the Flintstones, Barbie and Sesame Street have all done their own versions, and some of England’s finest classical actors have played Ebenezer Scrooge.

And yet, from an academic standpoint, A Christmas Carol is hardly Dickens’ finest work. Written in just six weeks in the fall of 1843, its full title was A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas and was marketed mostly as a gothic ghost story, says Elaine Hadley, an associate literature professor at the University of Chicago.

And yet Scrooge, Tiny Tim and the Christmas ghosts remain woven into our seasonal psyche, and resurface every year about this time.

So what is it about this story that resonates so strongly?

For starters, Hadley says, it was one of the first pieces of literature to capture what we now think of as the Christmas spirit. Christmas in Dickensian England was far more reserved than it is today, not all that different from other religious or harvest holidays.

“[A Christmas Carol] was a critical catalyst in transforming Christmas into a central holiday,” she says. “The idea of the family coming together, eating big goose and spending time together is captured so perfectly.”

The story of Scrooge and Bob Cratchit also played into another theme that rings loud and clear this time of year – and especially this year: capitalism and the common good.

Dickens offers up two visions of social responsibility: Scrooge, the tight-fisted miser, and the Cratchits, a close-knit and generous family struggling through poverty and disease.

“[The story] talks about the importance of strengthening the social fabric, of our obligation to other people,” Hadley said. “Especially in this economy, that’s a strong message.”

Whatever the reason, A Christmas Carol continues to captivate holiday audiences. In Chicago, the Goodman Theatre’s production is a seasonal tradition dating back to 1978. Click here to watch a video of four child stars of this year’s production.

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