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A Christmas Carol: Popularizing Philanthropy

We have excellent theatre in the Greater Yellowstone Area, one of the many benefits of living in a college town near an international destination like Yellowstone. Last week, I saw Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol at the historic Ellen Theatre in Bozeman to celebrate the holiday season with my family. I have loved Dickens ever since the second grade when I played the role of Mrs. Cratchit in my elementary school production. The play was as relevant as ever in 2019. The transformation of Scrooge still inspires audiences to carry the joy of giving and connection throughout the holidays.

A Christmas Carol at The Ellen Theatre (2019). Photo credit: Heather White.

When I saw Bleeker Street Media's film, The Man Who Invented Christmas, however, I realized that that A Christmas Carol was more than the charming story of Christmases past and future. The book's almost instant popularity in 1843 helped propel philanthropy mainstream. Dickens was passionate about giving to charity. He supported local schools and hospitals in London through personal contributions and speaking tours that benefited his charities. The cultural success of A Christmas Carol connected the holiday season to a time of giving.

In additional to his personal commitment to charitable giving, Charles Dickens served as a philanthropic advisor to 19th century British heiress Angela Burdett-Coutts, whom Dickens befriended at a dinner party. He encouraged Ms. Burdett-Coutts to donate her significant wealth to the poor. With advice and counsel from Dickens, Ms. Burdett-Coutts gave millions of pounds to charity throughout her lifetime. The exact amount isn't known, but the current Coutts foundation estimates that she gave more than $300 million pounds in today's currency to charities focusing on healthcare and alleviating poverty. Her legacy lives on through her family's foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls.

As we approach the end of the calendar year, an important time for nonprofit philanthropic campaigns, let's thank Dickens for his commitment to ensuring that the holiday season is about giving back to the communities where we live.


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