A Christmas Carol Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: A Christmas Carol is an evergreen, world-famous novella, telling the story of the rich but miserable, old Ebenezer Scrooge who, after being visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come, realizes there’s more to life than money, opens his heart, and changes his miserly ways.

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A Christmas Carol Summary

Have you ever watched DuckTales? When I did as a kid, this wonderful Disney cartoon first introduced me to Scrooge McDuck. “Uncle Scrooge,” as everyone called him, was so rich he could bathe in his money, which he happily did on a daily basis. He was also a bit of a cheapskate, always looking to both make and save his next dollar, often to the detriment of the rest of his family.

Back then, I didn’t know that “scrooge” literally means “miser,” nor that the reason for both this and McDuck’s name is actually another character in another great work of fiction: Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. First published in 1843, this world-famous novella has never been out of print and is one of the most recognizable, inspiring Christmas stories ever.

As the holiday was just regaining its standing in Victorian England, the fourth Christmas story Dickens published struck a nerve — and sold 6,000 copies in 5 days. It even helped popularize the phrase “Merry Christmas” to the point where you and I still say it today!

If we follow the story to its inflection points, there’s a lot we can learn. Here are 3 lessons from A Christmas Carol:

  1. We all get lost in our heads from time to time, but only the brave snap out of it when others call them out on it.
  2. Chances are you needn’t look far for evidence that you, too, want to be involved in society beyond your own goals.
  3. There’s always time left to become a better person, and thinking about your funeral just might help you do it.

Ghosts of Christmas, here we come!

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Lesson 1: Everyone gets self-obsessed from time to time, but not everyone listens to a reminder to snap out of it when they receive one.

On the 7th anniversary of his business partner Jacob Marley’s death, rich, old industrialist Ebenezer Scrooge spends yet another Christmas Eve by himself. He hates the holiday and everything about it. Walking the streets of London, he snubs the poor, rejects his nephew’s Christmas party invitation, and barely gives his employee Bob Cratchit the day off.

The one thing Scrooge can’t dismiss with his catchphrase “Bah! Humbug!” is the ghost of Marley, who appears to him that night, locked in chains. Having spent his life in greed and selfishness, Marley warns Scrooge to heed the warnings of 3 more ghosts about to visit him.

Look, I get it. Life is tough! Everyone wants something from you. It’s hard to make money, let alone find time to enjoy life and achieve your biggest goals. As a result, we all focus on ourselves most of the time, and sometimes, we get carried away and outright self-obsessed. That’s normal.

What’s not normal but important is to listen to your friends and family when they tell you that, “Hey, you’ve been getting into your own head a little much lately.” The only thing rarer than a kind invitation to shift your attention is someone who takes that reminder seriously. If you’re lucky enough to receive one, listen to it.

Lesson 2: Both the past and the present can show us that we’d like to be involved in society beyond just looking out for ourselves.

As promised, more ghosts show up at Scrooge’s house that night. The Ghost of Christmas Past takes him back to his childhood, showing him he once had meaningful relationships with both his sister and his first boss. Once upon a time, Scrooge was even engaged, but his fiancée Belle left him once he became obsessed with money.

The Ghost of Christmas Present, meanwhile, takes Scrooge to various Christmas celebrations around town, including Bob Cratchit’s scant dinner with his family and disabled son Tim. When they visit Scrooge’s nephew’s party after all, Scrooge actually enjoys himself. Too soon, their time is up.

When you focus on being there for others, a weight falls off your shoulders. You take yourself less seriously and worry less about the future. Chances are, you don’t even have to look far to find evidence that you can, have been, and are participating in society beyond just working for your own gain.

Did you protect your siblings when you were younger? Volunteer to run the chess club at school? Maybe, there’s an event happening in your town you’d love to attend right now. It could be a gathering among old college friends, a music festival, or even, well, a Christmas party!

As long as we do it in a way that aligns with our values, giving and sharing is exciting, not depriving — and it only takes one memory or moment of curiosity to remind us of this fact.

Lesson 3: It’s never too late to change your ways, and thinking about your funeral is a great way to start doing it.

Scrooge’s final, silent visitor, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, shows him a bleak future. A hated man’s funeral is scarcely attended by a few businessmen who had to be bribed with lunch. Even his caretakers steal his last remaining possessions in order to sell them. The ghost also shows Scrooge that Timmy died. Finally, he reveals the tombstone of the hated man actually bears Scrooge’s name.

Horrified at these visions of the future, Scrooge wakes up the next morning a changed man. He gives to the poor, sends Cratchit’s family a big turkey, and wishes everyone he encounters “Merry Christmas!” He even goes to Fred’s party and starts befriending little Tim. Scrooge starts using his money for good rather than just hoarding it, and he becomes a kinder, more joyous and compassionate human being.

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey recommends “the funeral test.” What would you like people to say at your wake? As what kind of person would you like to be remembered — and for which  kind of actions? It’s an efficient way of probing the life you are living right now. Do your words and actions always line up with your aspirations? Or does something need fixing?

No matter how old you are, it is never too late to become a newer, different, better version of yourself — and thinking about the days when you’re no longer around is a good start in figuring out what tomorrow’s version of you should look like.

A Christmas Carol Review

Years ago, I chose A Christmas Carol as one of the best motivational books I’ve ever read. It’s an all-time classic you can read year round, and if you haven’t yet, Christmas or not, I absolutely recommend you do so right now.

Who would I recommend our A Christmas Carol summary to?

The 15-year-old whose pubescent mind tells her that Christmas is a waste of time, the 55-year-old CEO of a small business who demands perhaps a little too much of his workers, and anyone who has a big regret they wish they could change.

Last Updated on December 21, 2023

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Niklas Göke

Niklas Göke is an author and writer whose work has attracted tens of millions of readers to date. He is also the founder and CEO of Four Minute Books, a collection of over 1,000 free book summaries teaching readers 3 valuable lessons in just 4 minutes each. Born and raised in Germany, Nik also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration & Engineering from KIT Karlsruhe and a Master’s Degree in Management & Technology from the Technical University of Munich. He lives in Munich and enjoys a great slice of salami pizza almost as much as reading — or writing — the next book — or book summary, of course!