The story starts with the readers meeting Ebenezer Scrooge, a grumpy and miserable old man. Seven years ago he lost his business partner named Jacob Marley and worked alone since then. We see him working in the office on Christmas Eve and not going to celebrate anything. Actually, Scrooge despises Christmas, celebrations, happiness, laughter and everything else that is good. The only thing that interests him for real is profit.
The first character defining moment for him is when he refuses to spend money for heating in the dead of the winter making himself and his clerk Bob Cratchit shiver in frozen rooms. Still, even Ebenezer Scrooge has relatives who care about him: his nephew named Fred pays him a visit to wish him a merry Christmas and invite him to the family dinner party. Scrooge doesn’t have a grain of politeness to wish Fred merry Christmas back, he yells at his nephew and tells him to get away. He shows the same intolerance to the two charity collectors who knock at his door to gather some money for the poor. Scrooge goes as far as accusing his clerk of theft of the daily income when Cratchit asks for a day off to spend Christmas with his family.
After finishing his work very late at night, Ebenezer returns to his apartment that is equally dark, cold and gloomy - he doesn’t even heat up his own house, saving money. He goes to sleep in a bad mood, but suddenly the old man wakes up sensing that someone is in his bedroom. It appears to be the ghost of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley. He looks pale, exhausted and terrifying, with the heavy chains hanging down his limbs. He tells Scrooge that he was punished in the afterlife for his greed and ignorance of human needs. Now his spirit is doomed to wander the Earth forever bearing the chains of his sins. As a spirit he knows that this Christmas the fate of Scrooge himself will be decided and came to warn him. Jacob says that three more spirits will visit Ebenezer this night and he will be given a chance to change his life. Otherwise, he will meet the same fate as Marley.
When Marley disappears, Scrooge quickly regains his composure, assuring himself that it is probably the result of indigestion or a similar unimportant reason. He manages to return back to sleep (disregarding his other traits this tells a lot about the man’s spirit!), but soon he is awake again, because the first promised spirit - the Ghost of Christmas Past - pays him a visit. It looks even creepier than his former partner: an eerie childlike figure in flowing robes and with the glowing featureless head. The spirit takes Scrooge to the past. The old man observes his own past Christmas holidays since the time when he was a child as another ghost, invisible and unable to change anything. He sees little Ebenezer neglected, desperately wishing for a holiday, but no one bothered to give the boy at least some attention - their parents were too busy. No wonder that grown up Scrooge hates Christmas - for him it is the symbol of broken dreams and shattered image of family love.
The spirit continues, gradually returning Scrooge to the present, letting him see his own life - his school years and young adulthood, when his lack of love and inability to love someone himself estranges him from the rest of the people. Ebenezer sees happy moments of his life that he ruined himself - intentionally or involuntarily. He watches as he becomes an apprentice of a rich trader named Fezziwig, a man with good temper and perfect moral for a trader. Fezziwig fruitlessly tried to teach him lessons of hospitality, generosity and kindness, emphasising that it is extremely important for a trader to not become obsessed with money, because the temptation is too strong sometimes. Scrooge watches himself falling in love (or so he thought) with the girl named Belle, who genuinely loves him back. But soon everything falls apart. Fezziwig fails and Belle leaves Ebenezer with a broken heart seeing that his only lust is for money and despite her attempts he doesn’t get any better. This visions touch Scrooge so much that he cries in remorse. After that the Ghost returns him back to the present, back to his bed and the old man falls asleep again.
Soon he wakes up again by the visit of the Ghost of the Christmas Present - a giant able-bodied figure in enormous green fur cape. He takes the old man out - again as a disembodied spirit - to see how much joy the other people have during Christmas. Scrooge sees happy families reuniting for the holiday dinner, surprise gifts and preparation. The happiness is equal for the richest and the poorest families and this is something he can’t comprehend. What really hits home is the visit to the family of his clerk whom he scolded so harshly for leaving the workplace.
The old man sees how poor Bob is and understands that it is completely his own responsibility - he defines Cratchit’s salary after all. Still, the whole family is as happy as the rest, even if the gifts and the holiday dishes are more than humble. Even Tiny Tim, the little son of the Cratchits, the boy who seems so ill that it would be a miracle if he made it through the cold winter, is happy. His optimism, courage and hope warm Ebenezer’s heart, but when he is almost ready to buy his clerk presents for all his family and medicine for his son, the Ghost takes him away, to another familiar house.
Now Ebenezer visits his nephew’s home and sees Fred gathering a humble but very enjoyable party. Despite the very cold attitude from Scrooge’s side, Fred still express regret that his old uncle has to be alone in such a great day. The atmosphere in his home is so warm and joyous that Scrooge deeply regrets about him declining the invitation earlier and he pleads the spirit to let him stay there, even as a spirit, until the dawn. But when he looks at the spirit, he notices that the healthy man becomes old and wrinkled. Without saying a word the Ghost takes him to the outskirts of London and shows him two poor and miserable kids sleeping on the street. The Ghost says that they are called Ignorance and Want and disappears that very moment, leaving Scrooge alone for a second. Than a dark hooded figure looking like Grim Reaper approaches him.
This is the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come and, if we have to believe his appearance, Scrooge’s future is more than bleak. Silently, the spirit takes Ebenezer, showing him the death of the unknown man. He sees as lawyers are fighting for his heritage - he seemed to be a very rich man without any legitimate heir - but no one else cares about him. Scrooge sees the Cratchits in mourning - Tiny Tim has died before the summer came, because his family didn’t have money to provide him with medicine and buy coal to warm up the house. They thank God that their cruel landlord is finally dead and they can hope that the next one will be better - because no one can be worse than the previous one.
Seeing familiar faces, Scrooge gradually starts to understand who they all are talking about. He begs the Ghost to reveal the name of the deceased, but it remains silent until the funeral, attended by no one. Than the Ghost just points to the tombstone, letting Ebenezer come closer and read his own name carved in stone. Scrooge rushes to the Ghost, pleading to give him another chance and promising to reform and undo as much harm he caused as it is still possible. The spirit remains silent, but when it understands that Ebenezer now is completely sincere, it disappears, returning the old man back to his bed, safe and sane.
Ebenezer is overjoyed: he feels like a shipwreck survivor who just had his second birthday. He jumps out of his bed, just to understand that it isn’t as late as he thought - he slept not more than couple of hours and the streets are still lit with the holiday lanterns. Scrooge dresses up and rushes outside, buying the biggest Christmas turkey and ordering it to be delivered to the Cratchits’ house immediately. Then he rides to Fred’s house and joins the party, that is as lavish as he saw in his dream. Fred is shocked and glad to see his uncle in such an incredibly good mood. They reconcile immediately and never speak about their argument again.
We see the years passing by. Ebenezer Scrooge survived not only the next Christmas, but lots and lots of others. But every Christmas now was a holiday for him. He became a much better man in general, not only one day in a year. Scrooge treated Cratchit as a faithful friend, not just as a tool for making money. He bought Tiny Tim medicine the boy needed and soon he grew up as healthy and strong as other kids, not suffering from illnesses and malnourishment anymore. Moreover, Ebenezer treated him as his own grandson - teaching Tiny Tim the things that Fezziwig tried to teach himself once. Scrooge finally understood the importance of that lessons and learned them anew.
Every year he bought a turkey to the Cratchits, making it a good tradition and also a remembrance about his miraculous transformation. Scrooge never refused the charity collectors anymore and even came to like buying and giving the gifts to the poor people himself. His newly found kindness, warmth and generosity turned him from grumpy and greedy, if not outright cruel old man no one would cry after, to the embodiment of the Christmas spirit. Though his family life with Belle is the only thing Ebenezer can’t revert and redeem, he found the new family - his nephew, his clerk and lots and lots of people he helped.