A Christmas Carol (full title: A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas) is Charles Dickens' "little Christmas Book" first published on December 19, 1843 and illustrated by John Leech. The story met with instant success, selling six thousand copies within a week. Originally written as a potboiler to enable Dickens to pay off a debt, the tale has become one of the most popular and enduring Christmas stories of all time.
In fact, contemporaries of the time noted that the popularity of the story played a critical role in redefining the importance of Christmas and the major sentiments associated with the holiday. Few modern readers realize that A Christmas Carol was written during a time of decline in the old Christmas traditions. "If Christmas, with its ancient and hospitable customs, its social and charitable observances, were in danger of decay, this is the book that would give them a new lease," said English poet Thomas Hood in his review in Hood's Magazine and Comic Review (January 1844, page 68). 
A Christmas Carol is a Victorian morality tale of an old and bitter miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, who undergoes a profound experience of redemption over the course of one evening. Mr. Scrooge is a financier/money-changer who has spent his life concentrating on the accumulation of wealth and little else. He holds anything other than wealth in contempt including friendship, love and the Christmas season.
In keeping with the title "Christmas Carol" Dickens divides his literary "piece of music" into five "staves" (plural of staff, an element of written music) on which he will put his "notes." The story begins by establishing that Jacob Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge's business partner in "Scrooge & Marley," was dead—the narrative begins seven years after his death to the very day, Christmas Eve. Scrooge and his clerk Bob Cratchit are at work in the counting-house with Cratchit stationed in the poorly heated "tank," a victim of Scrooge's stinginess. Scrooge's nephew Fred comes in to wish his uncle a "Merry Christmas" and invite him to Christmas dinner the next day. He is dismissed by Scrooge with "Bah! Humbug!" among other unpleasantries. Two "portly gentlemen," collecting charitable donations for the poor, come in right after, but they are rebuffed by Scrooge, who points out that the Poor Laws and workhouses are sufficient to care for the poor. When Scrooge is told that many would rather die than go there Scrooge mercilessly responds, "If they would rather die ... they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population." At the end of the workday Scrooge grudgingly allows Cratchit to take Christmas Day off, but to be all the earlier to work on the day after.
Scrooge leaves the counting-house and eventually returns to his home, an isolated townhouse formerly owned by his late business partner, Jacob Marley. In keeping with his miserly character, Scrooge lives in a small suite of largely unfurnished rooms within the house which he keeps dark and cold (the rest of the building he has let out as office space). While he unlocks his door Scrooge is startled to see the ghostly face of Marley instead of the familiar appearance of his door knocker. This is just the beginning of Scrooge's harrowing night. A spectral hearse charging up the broad staircase in the dark, the sliding of bolts and slamming of doors elsewhere in the house, and the inexplicable ringing of the ancient and neglected bell pull system precedes a visit from Marley as Scrooge eats his gruel by the fireplace. Marley has come to warn Scrooge that his miserliness and contempt for others will subject him to the same fate Marley himself suffers in death, condemned to walk the earth in penitence since he had not done it in life in concern for mankind. A prominent symbol of Marley's torture is a heavy chain wound round his form that has attached to it symbolic objects from Marley's life fashioned out of heavy metal: ledgers, money boxes, keys, and the like. Marley explains that Scrooge's fate might be worse than his because Scrooge's chain was as long and as heavy as Marley's seven Christmases ago when Marley died, and Scrooge has been adding to his with his selfish life. Marley tells Scrooge that he has a chance to escape this fate through the visitation of three more spirits that will appear one by one. Scrooge is shaken but not entirely convinced that the foregoing wasn't a hallucination, and goes to bed thinking that a good night's sleep will make him feel better.
At one o'clock in the morning the first spirit appears and introduces himself to Scrooge as The Ghost of Christmas Past. This spirit leads Scrooge on a journey into some of happiest and saddest moments of Scrooge's past. These include the mistreatment of Scrooge by his uncaring father (who did not visit Scrooge at boarding school, not even on Christmas), the loss of a great love sacrificed for his devotion to business, and the death of his sister, the only other person who ever showed love and compassion for him.
Visions provided by the second spirit, The Ghost of Christmas Present, show him the meagre Christmas celebrations of the Cratchit family, the sweet nature of their crippled son, Tiny Tim, and a possible early death for the child; this prospect is the immediate catalyst for his change of heart. They also show the faith of Scrooge's nephew in his uncle's potential for change, a concept that slowly warms Scrooge to the idea that he can reinvent himself.
The visit of the third spirit, The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, a grim spectre much more frightening that the other spirits, harrows Scrooge with visions of the Cratchit family bereft of Tiny Tim, of Scrooge's own lonely death and final torment, and the cold, avaricious reactions of the people around him after his passing. Without explicitly being said, Scrooge can avoid his own fate, and that of Tiny Tim – but only if he changes.
In the end, Scrooge changes his life and reverts to the generous, kind-hearted soul he was in his youth before the death of his sister.
The story deals extensively with two of Dickens' recurrent themes, social injustice and poverty, the relationship between the two, and their causes and effects. It was written to be abrupt and forceful with its message, with a working title of "The Sledgehammer." The first edition of A Christmas Carol was illustrated by John Leech, a politically radical artist, who in the cartoon Substance and Shadow printed earlier in 1843, had explicitly criticised artists who failed to address social issues.
Characters in "A Christmas Carol"
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
A Christmas Carol has been adapted to theatre, film, radio, and television countless times. According to the Internet Movie Database, various movie adaptations of the story were filmed as early as 1910.
Perhaps the most popular and critically-acclaimed film adaptation of the story was made in Britain in 1951. Originally titled Scrooge (and renamed A Christmas Carol for its American release), it starred Alastair Sim as Scrooge, and was directed by Brian Desmond-Hurst with a screenplay by Noel Langley.
Most modern adaptations refer to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come as the "Ghost of Christmas Future" instead.
Other adaptations of the story include:
In addition, others have noted that the classic film It's a Wonderful Life is essentially A Christmas Carol in reverse. That is instead of a miserly and selfish man changing his ways with a supernatural experience on Christmas Eve, the film depicts the story of a compassionate businessman who sacrificed his dreams to help his community and feels he is a failure. In the depths of despair, there is a supernatural occurrence to show him that his choices were more than worthwhile.
Dickens wraps up the story with two short paragraphs telling us that sickly Tiny Tim survives and stingy Ebenezer Scrooge becomes renowned for his newfound goodness--basically a "happily ever after" ending--but he provides no detail on what happens to any of the characters. Following the every-good-story-deserves-a-sequel idea, a number of authors have crafted their own versions of what befell Scrooge and company. Ranging from Internet stories to best-selling novels, several different works have picked up the characters and events of Dickens' classic to spin new tales for the story's aftermath.
Here are but a few: