Monday, December 19, 2011

A Victorian Christmas Carol

By Karen V. Wasylowski


I have always thought of Christmas time…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 people below them as if they were really fellow-passengers to the grave and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.

- Nephew Fred from 'A Christmas Carol'

There is nothing in this world that evokes Christmas more for me than Victorian England and Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  How many times have I seen this movie, and in how many versions?   Well, it's hard to keep track - the story is similar to Pride and Prejudice in that Hollywood feels the need to keep retelling the tale, change the locale, modernize the message.  My brother and I watched and waited each year for it, hoping for the 1951 version starring Alastair Sims and complaining bitterly if it was the 1938 Reginald Owen film.  In 1970 Albert Finney starred in 'Scrooge' but I never did take to his performance.  It was like Tom Jones on crack cocaine or something and then in 1988 Bill Murray got 'Scrooged' and that just made me nervous.  I never for one moment believed Scrooge was reformed in the end.  I mean, it was Bill Murray after all. 

The Christmas festivities described in A Christmas Carol were a good deal different from the old Puritan Christmas that had been the norm for years.  Puritans, Quakers and others strongly disapproved of the mingling of liquor and merriment with a sacred holiday, were disturbed by some of the tradition’s origins in pagan ritual. Writing in 1871, G.K. Chesterton provides an insight into the mid-19th century mindset with his claim that

...in fighting for Christmas [Dickens] was fighting for the old European festival, Pagan and Christian, for that trinity of eating, drinking and praying which to moderns appears irreverent, for the holy day which is really a holiday.

In spite of its detractors, the New Christmas gradually took hold, and the Victorians established many of the customs that are at the center of today’s traditional Christmas celebration. In 1840, when Prince Albert celebrated the holiday at Windsor Castle by presenting his family with the “German” Christmas tree, all of England followed suit. The festival began to focus predominantly on the family, particularly on children. The first Christmas cards appeared in 1843, the year that A Christmas Carol was published. The originally pagan ritual of caroling was revived, gift giving grew in importance, and the traditional Christmas dinner began to take shape.


And still it grows - there are new traditions added every year, cultural preferences, family blending.  Christmas itself remains the same though, a blessed time of peace, family and remembrance.   I pray you have a joyful day, but remember others less fortunate.  May you help the poor, love your neighbor, forgive your enemies. 

And settle in for another year of "A Christmas Carol."



Preface to A Christmas Carol 
        "I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.
 Their faithful Friend and Servant, C.D. "

 Merry Christmas, and God Bless us,
One and All

Hope you take a moment and visit my other blog -
"The League of British Artists"

'Darcy and Fitzwilliam' By Karen V. Wasylowski
"It is absorbing.  It is Intoxicating.  It is excellent..."  Jane Austen's World and Jane Austen Today



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5 comments:

  1. Thanks Karen, a lovely picture of a Victorian Christmas.

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  2. I love those graphics and feel benevolent toward those Victorians who started some of our loveliest traditions.

    Thanks for the post!

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  3. Lovely post! A CHRISTMAS CAROL is my favorite secular Christmas book; I watch the Alistair Sim and George C Scott movies every year. Thank you for this enjoyable article.

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  4. There is evidence that Queen Adelaide, wife of William IV, first introduced the Christmas tree to Britain. But the popularity of the tradition, and the making a big deal of it, certainly dates from Albert and Victoria...

    Of course, they hardly celebrated Christmas in Scotland in the Victorian era. There, the big celebration is Hogmanay--New Year's Eve. So it's very much an English thing as opposed to a British one.

    But there's been--and it's mostly in places that I can't find an internet link to--a lot of coverage about Dickens' own Christmases and how despite the fact that in some ways he was the font of all great Victorian Christmas celebrations, his own family gatherings were distinctly awkward and not-welcoming due to his "two households".

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  5. Karen wants to thank you all for your comments. :)

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