Why the Dickens is Easter celebrated less than Christmas?

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Easter smoke break

Miguel Pimentel via Flickr Creative Commons (cropped)

Easter Bunny taking a short smoke break

Easter is the highpoint of the Christian liturgical calendar. After the season of Lent and Holy Week, Easter celebrates the key event in Christianity: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So, how did Christmas become the big holiday? A look at references to each holiday in English books hints at the answer. Prior to the Mid-Nineteenth Century, Christmas and Easter were written about with equal frequency. But starting in the 1840s, Christmas became more and more popular. By the early part of the 20th Century, Christmas was written about two to three times as often as Easter.

Mark Connelly’s history of Christmas examines the rise of the holiday, particularly in Victorian England. Connelly notes that in terms of religion, Easter, not Christmas would seem to be the likely choice for top holiday:

Of great importance is just why it was Christmas that became the focus and not say, Easter, Rogationtide or Harvest Festival. In terms of theological significance Easter is the major point in the calendar — everyone is born, but not everyone finds it quite so easy to return from the grave after three days. And yet Easter became peripheral; Christmas was obviously the major festival.

The turning point was the publication of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in 1844.  As Connelly lays out in his book, Dickens and other Victorians didn’t invent Christmas but they re-imagined it. Dickens story brought together many of the traditions, folktales, and customs revolving around Christmas and gave it moral weight by focusing on generosity and nostalgia. Christmas became a holiday in which Victorians could celebrate the past as they faced the changes brought on by industrialization.

Easter remained a largely religious holiday. Part of the reason is its importance in Christianity. Part of the reason is purely a matter of timing. Christmas comes in the darkness of winter (and at Britain’s latitude, this can be a very long night); so, a holiday provides a distraction from the season. Easter is celebrated just as spring and longer days are arriving.

Christmas was also a longer holiday (twelves days of Christmas). Focusing on Christmas Day compacted nearly a fortnight of celebration into one holiday. Easter is the culmination of Holy Week, but Maundy Thursday and Good Friday isn’t a time of revelry.

Dickens and other Victorians didn’t invent Christmas, but they did turn it into the holiday it is today. Without them, Christmas may have remained a religious holiday much like Easter is today.

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  • Lucy

    Well, that’s one way to look at it. My take is that it’s hard to secularize the death and resurrection of Christ. Despite the Easter Bunny and it’s foray into Easter, no one likes to think about death, especially such a cruel death even when it ends in a story of LIFE and joy. Christians are the only people who really understand the full meaning of Easter. Forgetting about Good Friday, diminishes the Joy of Easter. I, for one, am glad that it hasn’t been totally taken over by rabbits, baby chicks and fuzzy little lambs.

  • Fran

    They are both pagan holidays, so they at least have that much in common with each other. They were also not celebrated or observed by Jesus, his disciples, apostles, followers and first-century Christians, which also speaks volumes.

    However, they did commemorate the Lord’s evening meal or the memorial of Jesus’ death, at which time Jesus instigated a new covenant with them for a kingdom, or God’s government. This should be observed every year on its anniversary or the corresponding date to Nisan 14 of the Jewish calendar, which was April 3 of this year.

  • samuel Johnston

    Are you serious? Christmas is fun, and inviting for all the community. Easter is a depressing drag, all about torture, suffering, and death, because of our sins and guilt. Boo.

  • chuckbo

    Thanks for the article; I’d never thought of this, and your analysis makes sense to me.

    I’m also curious at what point did we see Marketing get into the picture? It seems to me a lot more compelling for shop-keepers to promote the gift-giving aspect of a holiday, which would give Christmas more attention.

  • chuckbo

    I’ve heard many speakers explaining that this is a myth that Paganists find in their best interest to repeat as truth — but it feels off-topic on this website. So, I’ll just encourage you to do your own research on both sides of the debate & see what you decide.