Perhaps in these troubled times we might find Dickens’ love of Christmas cheer helpful.
In 1990, Paul Davis’ “The Lives & Times of Ebenezer Scrooge” described the way in which many readers had come to regard Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Dickens and Christmas, he wrote, had become synonymous, and “A Christmas Carol” had now come to be an industry.
While Davis’ point is valid, we should remember that for Dickens, regardless of what we now make of it, Christmas was a time of joy and celebration as well as a sacred holiday.
Perhaps, in these troubled times, we might find his approach helpful.
Author Norrie Epstein, in her book “The Friendly Dickens,” describes Dickens’ view of Christmas this way: “The season brought out all of Dickens’ most endearing qualities — his hospitality, his graciousness, generosity, sense of fun and genius for entertaining … In 1843, the year he wrote ‘A Christmas Carol,’ Dickens hosted a yuletide Saturnalia that no one who was there would ever forget. [Dickens’] pent-up spirits broke out like Niagara after a thaw. Conjuring dancing quadrilles, mixing milk punch, his face beaming with mirth and mischief, Dickens celebrated with a vengeance that year.”
Dickens, in fact, celebrated the holiday every year with exuberance, both personally and as an author. There are 22 stories in “The Complete Christmas Stories of Charles Dickens,” including “A Christmas Tree” and “What Christmas Is as We Grow Older.” They all reveal what Christmas meant to the author, especially the “endearing qualities” described above.
Here is Dickens in “The Pickwick Papers”:
“But my song I troll out, for Christmas stout,
The heavy, the true, and the bold;
A bumper I drain, and with might and main
Give three cheers for this Christmas old!
We’ll usher him in with a merry din
That shall gladden his joyous heart,
And we’ll keep him up, while there’s bite or sup,
And in fellowship good, we’ll part.
Then again I’ll sing, till the roof doth ring,
And it echoes from wall to wall —
To the stout old wight, fair welcome tonight,
As the King of the Seasons all!”
“A Christmas Carol” itself contains many passages that reveal this joyful Dickensian Christmas spirit. How can one forget the party given by Scrooge’s nephew in Stave II? The fiddler comes in, and the dancing commences:
“There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more dances. … Then old Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mrs. Fezziwig. Top couple too; with a good stiff piece of work cut out for them; three or four and twenty pair of partners; people who were not to be trifled with; people who would dance, and had no notion of walking.”
Whether or not “A Christmas Carol” has become a commodity, then, it still retains its original Dickensian meaning, one of joy and happiness.
Epstein calls Dickens “A ‘Christmassy Guy.’ ” She tells us: “In 1905, G.K. Chesterton wrote, ‘The mystery of Christmas is in a manner identical with the mystery of Dickens.’ ” She goes on to say: “What he meant by this is itself a mystery, but he was accurate about one thing: Dickens is inseparable from Christmas. Even in his own lifetime, he was regarded as the presiding genius of the season of comfort and joy.”
One can fully agree and put the emphasis on the final word.