Ghost of Christmas Past
The Ghost of Christmas Past is a fictional character in Charles Dickens' 1843 novella A Christmas Carol. The Ghost is one of three spirits who appears to miser Ebenezer Scrooge to offer him a chance of redemption.
Appearing to be young and old at the same time, the Spirit has a bright light streaming from the top of its head and carries a large cap in the shape of a candle extinguisher under its arm. The Ghost of Christmas Past arrives in Scrooge's bedchamber as the clock chimes one. Each of the Ghosts of Christmas represents a different time in Scrooge's life, and the Ghost of Christmas Past is concerned with the Christmases from Scrooge's past - near and distant. The events of the past "are but shadows" and the bright light the Spirit emits illuminates Scrooge's memories.
By early 1843 Dickens had been affected by the treatment of the poor, and in particular the treatment of the children of the poor after witnessing children working in appalling conditions in a tin mine and following a visit to a ragged school. Indeed, Dickens himself had experienced poverty as a boy when he was forced to work in a blacking factory after his father's imprisonment for debt. Originally intending to write a political pamphlet titled, An Appeal to the People of England, on behalf of the Poor Man's Child he changed his mind and instead wrote A Christmas Carol which voiced his social concerns about poverty and injustice.
Dickens's friend John Forster said that Dickens had 'a hankering after ghosts’, while not actually having a belief in them himself, and his journals Household Words and All the Year Round regularly featured ghost stories, with the novelist publishing an annual ghost story for some years after his first, A Christmas Carol, in 1843. In this novella Dickens was innovative in making the existence of the supernatural a natural extension of the real world in which Scrooge and his contemporaries lived.
Significance to the story
The Ghost of Christmas Past is a strange, otherworldly creature which shimmers and flickers like a candlelight, constantly changing in appearance as it reflects Scrooge's memories, old and new. As one memory comes sharply into focus another fades. As the Spirit represents Scrooge's youth so it can appear youthful, and its skin is of the "tenderest bloom"; but as Scrooge is now old so the Spirit will also appear old, to reflect this. The Ghost’s clothing continues in the same contradictory vein as it holds a branch of holly, which symbolises Winter while its robe is trimmed with summer flowers. In addition, the constantly changing aspect of the Spirit may be attributed to representing the various other people seen in the visions revealed to Scrooge:
It was a strange figure—like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child’s proportions. Its hair, which hung about its neck and down its back, was white as if with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and the tenderest bloom was on the skin. The arms were very long and muscular; the hands the same, as if its hold were of uncommon strength. Its legs and feet, most delicately formed, were, like those upper members, bare... But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm.
Even this, though, when Scrooge looked at it with increasing steadiness, was not its strangest quality. For as its belt sparkled and glittered now in one part and now in another, and what was light one instant, at another time was dark, so the figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away. And in the very wonder of this, it would be itself again; distinct and clear as ever. 
When Scrooge demands to know its business, the Spirit replies, "Your welfare!" When Scrooge demurs that he would rather benefit from a good night's sleep, the Spirit responds, "Your reclamation, then. Take heed!"
Visions of the Past
Although seemingly gentle and ethereal, the Spirit is deceptively strong, as "It put out its strong hand as it spoke, and clasped him gently by the arm. "Rise! and walk with me!" Scrooge tries to ignore the vision of his unhappy childhood that the Spirit reveals to him, but shows the first flicker of emotion when he sees his younger sister Fan again. Scrooge becomes even more animated at the Christmas Eve celebrations during the time of his apprenticeship to Mr. Fezziwig. Scrooge shows a further awakening of his human nature when the Spirit asks:
“A small matter,” said the Ghost, “to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.”
The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig: and when he had done so, said,
“Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?”
“It isn’t that,” said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. “It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”
He felt the Spirit’s glance, and stopped.
The Spirit then shows Scrooge his engagement to the love of his life, Belle, and his subsequent painful parting from her. When Scrooge becomes upset by these memories, the Spirit says, “These are the shadows of the things that have been. That they are what they are, do not blame me.”
Distraught, Scrooge cries out, "Leave me! Take me back. Haunt me no longer!", and seizes the Spirit's cap. "In the struggle... Scrooge observed that its light was burning high and bright; and dimly connecting that with its influence over him, he seized the extinguisher-cap, and by a sudden action pressed it down upon its head."
Dickens refers to the Spirit as “it”, implying the Ghost is neither male or female, which has posed problems for dramatists from the novella’s first stage productions up to television and film productions, having been portrayed by male and female actors, old and young.
- Marie Ney - Scrooge (1935)
- Ann Rutherford - A Christmas Carol (1938)
- Michael J. Dolan - Scrooge (1951)
- Edith Evans - Scrooge (1970)
- Diana Quick (voice) - A Christmas Carol (1971)
- David Johansen - Scrooged (1988)
- Jessica Fox (voice) - The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
- Jane Horrocks - Christmas Carol: The Movie (2001)
- Jim Carrey (voice) - A Christmas Carol (2009)
- Joan Gardner (voice) - Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962)
- Angela Pleasence - A Christmas Carol (1984)
- Joel Grey - A Christmas Carol (1999)
- Matt Smith - Doctor Who episode A Christmas Carol (2010)
- Ashleigh Ball - My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode A Hearth's Warming Tail (2016)
- Andy Serkis - A Christmas Carol (2019)
- The Ghost of Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol BBC Bitesize Education website
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- Sutherland, John The Origins of A Christmas Carol, British Library database (2014)
- Priestley, Chris (23 December 2015). "Ignorance and Want: why Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol is as relevant today as ever". The Guardian.
- Dickens, Charles Stave Two: The First of the Three Spirits, A Christmas Carol, Project Gutenberg Text Online
- Hearn, Michael Patrick. The Annotated Christmas Carol, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York (2004), p. 51
- Stave Two: The Ghost of Christmas Past, York Notes Online Study Guide
- The Ghost of Christmas Past, A Christmas Carol, SparkNotes Education Guide
- Fezziwig: fictional character, Encyclopædia Britannica online
- Analysis of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come, University of Durham database
- Hearn, p. 52
- Callow, Simon (2009). Dickens' Christmas: A Victorian Celebration. London: Frances Lincoln. ISBN 978-0-7112-3031-6.
- Childs, Peter; Tredell, Nicolas (2006). Charles Dickens. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-4039-1919-9.
- Ledger, Sally (2007). Dickens and the Popular Radical Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-84577-9.
- Lee, Imogen. "Ragged Schools". British Library. Retrieved 8 January 2017.