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The library has its own rotunda adorned with brilliant mosaics supported by intricately carved marble columns. An adjacent showroom houses illuminated manuscripts, Egyptian statuary and an Assyrian cuneiform tablet. Yet money was never far from his mind.

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Hanging over a massive stone fireplace in the library is an epic 16th-century tapestry depicting the deadly sin of avarice, characterized by King Midas himself. It is a difficult item to interpret. A demonstration of his power over the moral trifles of lesser men?

A simple lack of self-awareness? Though the Dickens exhibit is more cheerful, it is impossible to put aside similar questions. Why would a fabulously rich banker purchase the letter Dickens wrote over Christmas of pleading for a loan?

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Though A Christmas Carol revived his confidence, the project was a financial bust. Even this was soon wiped out. Undeterred, Dickens followed up with four other Christmas books in the s, all of which racked up impressive sales numbers. He purchased the letter sometime before And Dickens himself would struggle to live up to some of these values in later life. His international celebrity put a terrible strain on his marriage to Catherine.

In , he humiliated her with a very public separation, leaving the mother of his children for the teenage Ellen Ternan. He worked at a furious pace all his life, taking on a second career as a public speaker, reading his books before audiences of thousands.

None of these failings have diminished the cultural power of his prose, which will resonate so long as economic inequality remains a dominant social problem. For Dickens, Christmas was synonymous with a natural, divine abundance. Scarcity was a human invention. Men like Morgan knew the answer. It was stashed away in their bank vaults and hoarded among their cuneiform ruins.

Congress, meanwhile, has decided to raise taxes on the poor and middle class to shower trillions of dollars on some of the richest families the world has ever known, including their own. We are experiencing the spiritual arc of A Christmas Carol in reverse, watching our public commitments and ideas curdle into moral rot. Do you have information you want to share with HuffPost? Tap here to turn on desktop notifications to get the news sent straight to you.

Help us tell more of the stories that matter from voices that too often remain unheard. Join HuffPost Plus. Zach Carter. Suggest a correction. Real Life. Real News. Real Voices. Let us know what you'd like to see as a HuffPost Member. The holiday did not become legal in New England until Puritan repressions have largely disappeared from today's world, however, and celebrations surrounding Christmas are now quite varied and widespread. In colonial times the Dutch introduced traditions related to St.

Nicholas, especially the custom of giving gifts to children. In time the practice spread throughout America and expanded to include presents for adults as well.

The Christmas Story

When people from different ethnic backgrounds tried to pronounce the saint's name, there were many versions, but the most widely accepted reference became " Santa Claus. Clement C. Moore, a seminary professor, wrote the poem as a present for his children, and when a New York newspaper published it, the narrative that begins " 'Twas the night before Christmas. Though St.

Nicholas had previously been depicted as old and thin, Santa Claus became universally described as plump and jolly, clad in fur-trimmed red clothing. This visual image was due to Thomas Nast , a cartoonist who began drawing Santa Claus this way in Moore's poem and Nast's pictures established a pattern that has remained much the same through current times. Nineteenth-century England also witnessed an expansion of Christmas observances, most of them Germanic in origin because of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband. Christmas trees decorated with ornaments, and tinsel, holly wreaths, bells, carols, and exchanging Christmas cards all added to the general atmosphere of merrymaking.

These influences quickly made their way across the Atlantic and have remained basic elements in U.

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Of all British influences that have shaped ideas about the season, probably the most important was A Christmas Carol, written by Charles Dickens in That story, which depicted the callousness and eventual repentance of Ebenezer Scrooge, together with humble faith and forgiveness in the Cratchit family, has become another perennial feature of the modern North American Christmas.

Public affirmation of and participation in Christmas have increased throughout the twentieth century. Religious observances of Christ's birth still give central purpose and meaning to the holiday for many people. But in contemporary times commercial interests have dominated public awareness of the season, forcing theological-liturgical considerations into a place of secondary importance.

While many traditions still focus on children and family, others now include celebrations in the workplace, school plays, and municipal pageants. Exchanging gifts has become so widespread as to include friends and acquaintances at virtually every level of contact. It has made the Christmas season a boom time, one of the most important parts of the commercial year for selling consumer goods.

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Role of Christianity in civilization

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City inaugurated in and widely emulated throughout the United States , featuring Santa Claus and many huge balloons, is often taken as the signal for Christmas shopping to begin. In more recent times people have begun seasonal shopping even earlier. Christmas creates many extra jobs as temporary sources of income, and in business corporations it is often the occasion for bonuses and promotions. Buying and spending for home decorations are quite widespread, as is consuming rich foods such as eggnog, roast turkey or goose, and mince pies.

The choice of foods, types of presents, and party activities differ widely according to the many cultures that make up modern North American life, but all of them emphasize a time of celebration, indulgence, and sharing. Jewish Americans have made much of Hanukkah, or Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, as a way of sharing common elements of the holiday season while still emphasizing their own faith and cultural heritage.

Many African Americans have begun observing Kwanza for similar reasons. Music has always played a part in Christmas festivities, and that is still the case in contemporary usage. Classical performances often feature Handel's oratorio The Messiah, as well as many renditions of the aria " Ave Maria. On a more popular level, perhaps the best-loved song of all is "White Christmas," written by Irving Berlin and first sung by Bing Crosby in Many other vocalists recorded versions of the standby thereafter, and additional songs enrich Christmas music, but none has superseded the original in popular esteem.

The movies and television have contributed heavily to the generalized sentimentalism that characterizes Christmas today. Hollywood has produced a bewildering variety of Christmas films, some of which are only loosely connected to holiday themes. Almost a dozen versions of Dickens's tale about Scrooge have appeared, and each year new films emerge that both reinforce and exploit popular sympathies. Two movies that receive much attention every year are Holiday Inn and Miracle on 34th Street , whose plot turns on the Macy's parade, Santa Claus, and childlike trust in human goodness.

Many television programs further these sentiments, too. For most of the twentieth century, Christmas observances have included a display of manger scenes on municipal properties, indicating how deeply ingrained the holiday had become in accepted American routines. But in recent decades several non-Christian groups have challenged activities that recognize the holiday of just one religion at the expense of all citizens. Lawsuits backed by the American Civil Liberties Union have been successful in several states, where courts have found it unconstitutional for governmental offices to aid or further any religious interest.

Arguments over separation of church and state will continue in this area for some time to come. But no litigation will ever succeed in suppressing all the symbols connected with Christmas, private and public, sacred and secular, because their protean meanings have become so inextricably mixed with contemporary culture.