When Charles Dickens sat down to write his “ghostly little book,” he endeavored to raise an idea that would not sour his readers on the Christmas season but “haunt their houses pleasantly.” Indeed, we have been haunted by A Christmas Carol since 1843. Its longevity may be due, in part, to Dickens’ performances of it. Starting in 1853, he took his show on the road in Britain then to the United States, and audiences could not get enough. Rather than read directly from his book, he transformed it into a performance piece. He rewrote, cut and pasted together pages, and added stage cues until he had a script worthy of the stage.
This too has passed into modern tradition with actors, storytellers and speakers who channel the spirit of Dickens and perform A Christmas Carol as he once did: one man, one stage, one book. Dane Allred is one such man, but it didn’t start out that way. “The first time I performed A Christmas Carol, I was the narrator in a version of it that one of my friends had written,” says Allred. He’s a retired Payson High School drama teacher and teaches public speaking at BYU and UVU. He started performing a version similar to Dickens’ at places like the Provo Tabernacle (before it caught fire) and the Provo Public Library. Even though he had it mostly memorized from playing the narrator, Allred says, “I like to recreate Dickens’ reading of it from his book.” In all of the years Allred performed A Christmas Carol at the library, he says, “There were people who came every single time. I would say, ‘You know the story isn’t going to change, right?’ and they would say, ‘That’s the point. We like it.’”
Now in his mid-60s, Allred hopes to pass the proverbial Dickensian torch to a new generation of orators and actors. Actors like Matthew Delafuente, who played Dickens two years running in A Christmas Carol one-man show at the Covey Center for the Arts in Provo. When it comes to the story’s staying power, Delafuente points to a passage when Scrooge is with the Ghost of Christmas Past and Dickens describes the brightness and joy of the Christmas celebration—family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, festive music, singing and dancing and playing games. “There are all of these things from A Christmas Carol that are now embedded in our own Christmas traditions,” says Delafuente, who has also played George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, so he’s becoming quite familiar with holiday traditions. “Dickens was a pioneer.”
Both Delafuente and Allred point to the themes in A Christmas Carol as another secret to its long-lived success. “Dickens used his performances to raise money for children’s hospitals,” says Allred (who was inspired by that charity to perform A Christmas Carol with free admission). Dickens’ concern for children in poverty was a key impetus for writing A Christmas Carol, and, in doing so, he inextricably merged the virtues of giving and charity with Christmastime.
“Ultimately, it’s a story about a selfish man who, by the end, learns to see the needs of others in a new light,” says Delafuente. “We relate because we all have that battle of learning to see things from a perspective outside our own.”
“It’s a story of redemption,” says Allred. “I think it’s important to remember that Scrooge ends up as the good guy. We get to see him change, and think, ‘if he can change, why can’t I?’”
As much as the hundreds of film and TV adaptations and thousands of stage performances of A Christmas Carol might haunt us, it is the spirit of generosity that Dickens endeavored to have “haunt our homes pleasantly.” Less pleasantly, in the Ghost of Christmas Present’s parting words, there is also a warning concerning the children of Man, Ignorance and Want. “Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy [Ignorance], for on his brow I see that written which is Doom unless the writing be erased…Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end!”
Dickens’ Christmas Festival
Every holiday season, Christmas magic transforms the Dixie Convention Center in St. George into a 19th century Victorian market. At the Dickens’ Christmas Festival, Utah vendors and performers travel back in time, don their (period-appropriate) gay apparel and celebrate the holidays with seasonal treats, locally made gifts and Father Christmas himself.
Nov. 30-Dec. 3, 2022