Today's holiday traditions trace roots to Dickens' classic tale

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Early editions of the classic Dickens tale. | Courtesy of DePaul University

Since Charles Dickens published his iconic work, "A Christmas Carol" in 1843, the connection between Christmas and the author has left a lasting impression on how the yuletide holiday is celebrated in modern times. His story, which incorporated fellowship, merriment, song and the sharing of gifts with loved ones and with those less fortunate, has provided the groundwork for the traditions observed in today's holiday season.

Dickens wrote the classic tale during a time in England when puritanical thought shunned a more outward and secular expression of the December holiday. In writing "A Christmas Carol," Dickens incorporated social ideals that celebrated Christmas Day.

"In the story of ‘A Christmas Carol,' we begin to see the restoration of Christmas traditions to Victorian England. Those traditions had been banned by the Puritans. You weren't supposed to eat mince pie, you weren't supposed to have a feast. It was a solemn day of churchgoing and observance of religious rituals and not all of the fun things that we associate with Christmas today," said Kathryn DeGraff, an expert for DePaul University's Richardson Library Special Collection and Archives.

DePaul is home to a collection of the illustrated works of Dickens that includes 1,000 volumes of rare books, early editions and memorabilia. DeGraff, who recently retired after 40 years of library service, has overseen the growth of the Dickens items and material since the original collection was donated in 1972.

Included in the collection is a first American edition from 1860, which rests on a pillow to protect the book spine from opening too wide. This edition features the first illustration of the Cratchit family's Christmas dinner.

"The idea of illustrating ‘A Christmas Carol' is something that's kept on through time and as these illustrated editions have appeared, they have all focused on some of the many traditional values that are exemplified in the story," DeGraff explained.

In addition to the rare editions of "A Christmas Carol," the collection at DePaul includes memorabilia that demonstrates how the social ideals, family values and traditions that were reintroduced in the story of Ebenezer Scrooge have become a common element of popular culture. From decorative plates depicting Marley's ghost, to children's jigsaw puzzles and audio recordings, the famed Christmas story has been commercialized into a variety of seasonal products.

The Dickens collection is housed in the Richardson Library's Special Collection and Archives, 2350 N. Kenmore, 3rd Floor. The collection is open for viewing by the public during regular library hours, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Advance appointments to view the collection are appreciated. More information is available at http://www.library.depaul.edu/Collections/Bradford.aspx or by calling 773-325-7862. The library will close for Christmas break from Dec. 21, 2012 to Jan. 1, 2013. A video about the DePaul Dickens collection can be seen at http://newsroom.depaul.edu/Multimedia/multimedia.html.