Monday, 17 December 2018

A Dickensian Christmas

Charles Dickens' Christmas stories
Charles Dickens has probably had more influence on the way that we celebrate Christmas today than just about anyone else.

At the beginning of the Victorian period, the celebration of Christmas was in decline. The move of a large part of the population from rural villages to big cities as a result of the industrial revolution meant that traditional celebrations, which were a feature of village life, were abandoned. Dickens helped to reverse this and to create new ‘traditions’ to replace the old.

He was not alone, of course. Possibly equally influential was Prince Albert who brought the German custom of decorating the Christmas tree to England.

The singing of Christmas carols (which had all but disappeared at the turn of the century) began to thrive again, and the first Christmas card appeared in the 1840s.

However, it was the Christmas stories of Dickens that really revived the idea of Christmas as a time for celebration.

In October 1843, he began writing A Christmas Carol and it was finished by the end of November. The book captures in many of its chapters what Dickens observed taking place around him in London – and then built upon this.

The Spirit of Christmas Present takes Scrooge into the city streets, with their mud and sooty snow, to witness how the poor celebrated the festival.

However, the theme of A Christmas Carol is not Christmas feasting. It is a story of conversion, of release from the imprisoning chains of grasping covetousness worn by Marley's Ghost into the freedom of compassion and generosity. Dickens made his story a vehicle for delivery of the real message of Christmas.

The Spirit of Christmas Present therefore shows Scrooge not just the family celebrations so familiar to us now, but also the crowds hurrying to church and chapel 'with their gayest faces' – something rather less familiar to most of us today.

Whatever you will be doing this Christmas, it may well be as a result of traditions which Charles Dickens and Prince Albert revived and created nearly two centuries ago.

And whatever you are doing, we hope you have fun.