The phrase "Merry Christmas" had been around for many years – the earliest known written use was in a letter in 1534 – but Dickens's use of the phrase in A Christmas Carol popularised it among the Victorian public. The exclamation "Bah! Humbug!" entered popular use in the English language as a retort to anything sentimental or overly festive; the name "Scrooge" became used as a designation for a miser, and was added to the Oxford English Dictionary as such in 1982.
In the early 19th century the celebration of Christmas was associated in Britain with the countryside and peasant revels, disconnected to the increasing urbanisation and industrialisation taking place. Davis considers that in A Christmas Carol, Dickens showed that Christmas could be celebrated in towns and cities, despite increasing modernisation. The modern observance of Christmas is largely the result of a mid-Victorian revival of the holiday. The Oxford Movement of the 1830s and 1840s had produced a resurgence of the traditional rituals and religious observances associated with Christmastide and, with A Christmas Carol, Dickens captured the zeitgeist while he reflected and reinforced his vision of Christmas.
Dickens advocated a humanitarian focus of the holiday, which influenced several aspects of Christmas that are still celebrated in Western culture, such as family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, games and a festive generosity of spirit.[n 14] The historian Ronald Hutton writes that Dickens "linked worship and feasting, within a context of social reconciliation".
The novelist William Dean Howells, analysing several of Dickens's Christmas stories, including A Christmas Carol, considered that by 1891 the "pathos appears false and strained; the humor largely horseplay; the characters theatrical; the joviality pumped; the psychology commonplace; the sociology alone funny". The writer James Joyce considered that Dickens took a childish approach with A Christmas Carol, to produce a gap between the naïve optimism of the story, and the realities of life at the time.
Ruth Glancy, a professor of English literature, states that the largest impact of A Christmas Carol was the influence felt by individual readers. In early 1844 The Gentleman's Magazine attributed a rise of charitable giving in Britain to Dickens's novella; in 1874, Robert Louis Stevenson, after reading Dickens's Christmas books, vowed to give generously to those in need; and Thomas Carlyle expressed a generous hospitality by hosting two Christmas dinners after reading the book. In 1867 one American businessman was so moved by attending a reading, that he closed his factory on Christmas Day and sent every employee a turkey, while in the early years of the 20th century Maud of Wales – the Queen of Norway – sent gifts to London's crippled children signed "With Tiny Tim's Love". On the novella, the author G. K. Chesterton wrote "The beauty and blessing of the story ... lie in the great furnace of real happiness that glows through Scrooge and everything around him. ... Whether the Christmas visions would or would not convert Scrooge, they convert us."
Davis, analysing the changes made to adaptations over time, sees changes to the focus of the story and its characters to reflect mainstream thinking of the period. While Dickens's Victorian audiences would have viewed the tale as a spiritual but secular parable, in the early 20th century it became a children's story, read by parents who remembered their parents reading it when they were younger. In the lead up to, and during, the Great Depression, Davis identifies that while some see the story as a "denunciation of capitalism, ...most read it as a way to escape oppressive economic realities". The film versions of the 1930s were different in the UK and US. British-made films showed a traditional telling of the story, while US-made works showed Cratchit in a more central role, escaping the depression caused by European bankers and celebrating what Davis calls "the Christmas of the common man". In the 1960s, Scrooge was sometimes portrayed as a Freudian figure wrestling with his past. By the 1980s he was again set in a world of depression and economic uncertainty.