In the fall of 1843, a British novelist found himself facing financial uncertainty. Although his previous novels had sold moderately well, his family bills were mounting and the mortgage was due.
One evening, while out for a walk along the Thames, he wandered into a rundown London neighborhood. The streets were strewn with garbage, gutters overflowed with sewage, and pickpockets and streetwalkers were everywhere.
He thought back to his troubled childhood, when his father had been sent to debtors' prison, and how he himself had been forced to work at age 12, pasting labels on pots of boot polish for twelve hours a day, 6 days a week.
As he reached his home following his walk, he had a flash of inspiration. He thought of writing a Christmas story full of cheer and goodwill for people who, like he, had suffered poverty and had known what it was like to live in fear.
The question was whether, since it was only three months until Christmas, he could finish the book in time. He realized that it had to be a short book, not a full-length novel. He got right to work.
And before long, Charles Dickens had created A Christmas Carol.
He became very involved with the book, even designing the cover, insisting on a gold-stamped cover with a red and green title page and several hand-colored etchings -- an expensive design. Yet Dickens held to his original vision of making the book affordable for the widest possible audience, charging only five shillings a copy.
The response was overwhelming. The first 6000 copies sold out by Christmas Eve. Today, Dickens' story is a literary classic.
Dickens said that writing that story transformed him.
"I was very much affected by that little book," he later told a journalist, "and quite reluctant to lay it aside even for a moment."
Because of its low price, Dickens himself did not realize much profit from the sales of A Christmas Carol. It was, in a very real sense, a gift to the public.
By virtue of its popularity, however, the story created a much wider audience for Dickens' subsequent works. His later novels, including David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations, all proved highly popular and financially profitable, and his place in literary history has been assured for all time.
Each one of us has something to share with the world. This holiday season, let's remember that our presents to one another are a symbol of the greatest gift of all: the gift of Life Itself.
(Author's note: Charles Dickens and I share the same birthday, February 7th.)
"God bless us, everyone!" - Tiny Tim