A Christmas Carol

by: Charles Dickens

The Ghost of Christmas Past

[A]s 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.

The narrator describes the Ghost of Christmas Past’s appearance. The Ghost’s form constantly changes as if looking at the Spirit mimics reflecting on memories. Sometimes certain events come to the fore distinctly, while at other times those thoughts fade and other details stand out as important. Also, the Ghost represents the pasts of many people, not just Scrooge. The iterations of Christmases past—since the first Christmas over eighteen centuries ago—number too many for the Ghost to take any one shape.

[Scrooge] then made bold to inquire what business brought him there. “Your welfare!” said the ghost. Scrooge expressed himself much obliged, but could not help thinking that a night of unbroken rest would have been more conducive to that end. The Spirit must have heard him thinking, for it said immediately: “Your reclamation, then. Take heed!”

Scrooge is not yet convinced of the value of being visited by Ghosts and asks for an explanation. In this conversation, the Ghost of Christmas Past asserts that he plays a vitally important role. He also shows that he can read Scrooge’s mind—a fact revealed over and over during the course of their time together. The Ghost takes Scrooge to the times, places, and situations that reveal how Scrooge became the man he is at that moment.

The Spirit dropped beneath it, so that the extinguisher covered its whole form; but though Scrooge pressed it down with all its force, he could not hide the light, which streamed from under it, in an unbroken flood upon the ground.

The narrator explains how Scrooge attempts to snuff out the Ghost of Christmas Past’s power. As the Spirit shows Scrooge increasingly painful scenes, Scrooge places the Ghost’s hat shaped like a candle extinguisher on the Ghost’s head. But the Ghost cannot be defeated. Instead of snuffing out as a candle would, a bright light continues to shine downwards. Scrooge may try to ignore or forget the events of the past, but they cannot be denied.