Christmastide

A Christmas Carol. December 25.

By mid-1843 Dickens began to suffer from financial problems. Sales of Martin Chuzzlewit were falling off, and his wife, Catherine, was pregnant with their fifth child. Matters worsened when Chapman & Hall, his publishers, threatened to reduce his monthly income by £50 if sales dropped further. He began A Christmas Carol in October 1843. Michael Slater, Dickens’s biographer, describes the book as being “written at white heat”; it was completed in six weeks, the final pages being written in early December. He built much of the work in his head while taking night-time walks of 15 to 20 miles (24 to 32 km) around London. Dickens’s sister-in-law wrote how he “wept, and laughed, and wept again, and excited himself in a most extraordinary manner, in composition&#...

December 17, 217 B.C. Saturnalia.

Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival in honour of the god Saturn, held on 17 December of the Julian calendar and later expanded with festivities through to 23 December. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, in the Roman Forum, and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves. A common custom was the election of a “King of the Saturnalia“, who would give orders to people and preside over the merrymaking. This custom derived in the Middle Ages into the Lord of Misrule in England– known in Scotland as the Abbot of Unreason and in France as the Prince des Sots – that was an officer appo...

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