The classic novels of Charles Dickens written in the 1800s express his unique and detailed observation of the human condition during the time of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. His novels were dark and filled with a collection of complex characters who were subjected to the horrors of greed, poverty and child labor. And, like the master storytellers of today and yesteryear, he very likely used his writing to shed light on a reality that was easier to ignore.
That said, it might seem odd to today’s readers of his novels that Charles Dickens had a huge influence in the way we celebrate Christmas. Dickens’ himself describes Christmas as “a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys”.
These feelings provided the fuel for his novella “A Christmas Carol” where we become acquainted with Ebenezer Scrooge, a penny-pinching miser, who didn’t care about people or their lives: his only purpose to exploit and intimidate. As we learn from the story, he experienced a personal epiphany when the ghost of his late partner, Jacob Marley, appeared in a Christmas Eve dream and warns him in a demonstration of startling imagery to mend his ways. Dickens’ version of “scared straight”.
During the era of the Industrial Revolution and the start of the Victorian era, Christmas was frowned upon by the puritanical mindset of the times and was the subject of intense scrutiny. It’s likely that Dickens’ book helped to awaken the masses to what was happening.
As a result, the Victorian era opened the doors to a renewal of the celebration of Christmas, which we still demonstrate today with twinkling lights hung on fragrant fir trees. We still hang garlands and decorate our houses with giant red bows and enjoy the scents of apple pie, fir, pine, cinnamon, and cranberry. Most of our Christmas cards still have a distinctly Victorian design.
It was actually the German born Queen Victoria who introduced the wonders of the Christmas (Tannenbaum) tree to Britain. Although we don’t usually have real gingerbread men, marzipan candies, hard candies, cookies, fruit and nuts, on our trees, we still use beautiful ornaments and tinsel.
Attending church, gift-giving, and charity to the poor were essential parts of the Victorian celebration of the birth of Christ and Santa Claus was, and will always be, a colorful and potent metaphor for holiday optimism, renewed hope, and generosity.
Every year, when we revive the old traditions and send Christmas cards to friends and family and sing Christmas Carols, we can thank the Victorians, who re-kindled the spirit of Christmas with open hearts.
Unfortunately, history tends to repeat itself. Although the reasons may be different, the Christmas celebration is once again subject to intense scrutiny. With each passing year, more organizations seek to eliminate the word Christmas from the celebration. As Ebenezer Scrooge would say, “Bah Humbug”
If you would like to see and hear something really special click on the video to see the Christmas Shopping You Tube Video. It sure beats “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”.