The book received immediate critical acclaim. The London literary magazine, Athenaeum, declared it: "A tale to make the reader laugh and cry – to open his hands, and open his heart to charity even toward the uncharitable ... a dainty dish to set before a King." Poet and editor Thomas Hood wrote, "If Christmas, with its ancient and hospitable customs, its social and charitable observances, were ever in danger of decay, this is the book that would give them a new lease. The very name of the author predisposes one to the kindlier feelings; and a peep at the Frontispiece sets the animal spirits capering".
William Makepeace Thackeray in Fraser's Magazine (February 1844) pronounced the book, "a national benefit and to every man or woman who reads it, a personal kindness. The last two people I heard speak of it were women; neither knew the other, or the author, and both said, by way of criticism, 'God bless him!'" Thackeray wrote about Tiny Tim, "There is not a reader in England but that little creature will be a bond of union between the author and him; and he will say of Charles Dickens, as the woman just now, 'GOD BLESS HIM!' What a feeling this is for a writer to inspire, and what a reward to reap!".
Even the caustic critic Theodore Martin (who was usually virulently hostile to Dickens) spoke well of the book, noting it was "finely felt and calculated to work much social good". A few critics registered their complaints. The New Monthly Magazine, for example, thought the book's physical magnificence kept it from being available to the poor and recommended the tale be printed on cheap paper and priced accordingly. The religious press generally ignored the tale but, in January 1884, Christian Remembrancer thought the tale's old and hackneyed subject was treated in an original way and praised the author's sense of humour and pathos. Dickens later noted that he received "by every post, all manner of strangers writing all manner of letters about their homes and hearths, and how the Carol is read aloud there, and kept on a very little shelf by itself". After Dickens' death, Margaret Oliphant deplored the turkey and plum pudding aspects of the book but admitted that in the days of its first publication it was regarded as "a new gospel" and noted that the book was unique in that it actually made people behave better.
Americans were less enthusiastic at first. Dickens had wounded their national pride with American Notes for General Circulation and Martin Chuzzlewit, but Carol was too compelling to be dismissed, and, by the end of the American Civil War, copies of the book were in wide circulation. The New York Times published an enthusiastic review in 1863, noting that the author brought the "old Christmas ... of bygone centuries and remote manor houses, into the living rooms of the poor of today", while the North American Review believed Dickens's "fellow feeling with the race is his genius"; and John Greenleaf Whittier thought the book charming, "inwardly and outwardly".
For Americans, Scrooge's redemption may have recalled that of the United States as it recovered from war, and the curmudgeon's charitable generosity to the poor in the final pages viewed as a reflection of a similar generosity practised by Americans as they sought solutions to poverty. The book's issues are detectable from a slightly different perspective in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946), and Scrooge is likely an influence upon Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957).