Ebenezer Scrooge, a mean-spirited, miserly old man, is working in his counting house on Christmas eve, and he makes no attempt to hide his ill-willed feelings toward the season. A few people come to visit Scrooge: first, three solicitors who ask for a contribution to their charity for the poor, and then Scrooge’s nephew Fred, who invites Scrooge to his annual Christmas party. While his poor, hard-working clerk, Bob Cratchit, welcomes the guests and applauds their good spirits, Scrooge bitterly sends them away. When Mr. Cratchit is finished his work, he finds his son, Tiny Tim, waiting for him and they give money to two beggars before leaving for home, but when the beggars reach out to Scrooge, he coldly brushes them off.
Later that evening, after returning to his dark, cold estate, Scrooge receives a chilling visit from the ghost of his dead partner, Jacob Marley. Marley, who bears the weight of many long chains and padlocks, relates his story: as punishment for his self-serving greed, his spirit has been doomed to wander the earth weighted down with the chains of animosity and vanity that he forged in life. Marley hopes to save Scrooge from sharing the same fate and tells him that he will be visited by three spirits. Then Marley leaves, and Scrooge falls into a deep sleep.
He wakes to the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Past. The Spirit escorts Scrooge on a journey to Christmases long forgotten. Invisible to those he watches, Scrooge revisits his childhood school days, his apprenticeship with a jolly merchant named Fezziwig, and his engagement to Belle, a woman who leaves Scrooge because his lust for money eclipses his ability to love another. Scrooge, deeply saddened and filled with regret, begins to weep before the Ghost returns him to his bed.
The Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge through London to unveil Christmas as it will happen that year. Scrooge watches the large, bustling Cratchit family prepare a miniature feast in its meager home. He discovers Bob Cratchit’s crippled son, Tiny Tim, a courageous boy whose kindness and humility warms Scrooge’s heart. He also witnesses the contempt in which the family, particularly Mrs. Cratchit, holds him. Then they visit his nephew Fred’s to oversee the annual Christmas Party. Here they find feelings of disdain toward the old man in the form of a joke played at his expense. The scene dissolves, and the Spirit reveals to Scrooge a young boy and girl: Ignorance and Want, two ragged and meager children that represent the indifference of man. The Spirit vanishes with Ignorance and Want.
A dark, hooded figure, the Ghost of Christmas Future, leads Scrooge through a sequence of mysterious scenes relating to an unnamed man’s recent death: business men discussing the dead man’s riches, children laughing at the grave, some looters trading his personal effects for cash, and Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit mourning over the loss of their son. Scrooge, anxious to learn the lesson of his latest visitor, begs to know the name of the dead man. After pleading with the ghost, Scrooge finds himself in a churchyard, the Spirit pointing to a grave. Scrooge looks at the headstone and is terrified to find his own name. He desperately implores the Spirit to alter his fate, promising to renounce his selfish and insensitive ways and to honor Christmas with all his heart. Then the Spirit is gone, and Scrooge finds himself back in his own room.
Overwhelmed with joy by the chance to redeem himself, and grateful that he has been returned to Christmas Day, Scrooge rushes out onto the street hoping to share his newfound Christmas spirit. He attends a party with Fred and all the Cratchits, and as the years pass, he holds true to his promise and honors Christmas. He treats Tiny Tim as if he were his own son and treats his fellow human beings with kindness, generosity, and warmth.