22 December 2012

Step Into Christmas

Christmas Eve. After the making of the mince pies and the annual viewing of It’s A Wonderful Life (I’m thinking of I introducing Elf into the ritual in the future) the bedtime reading would be Christmas stories. After Christmas the books would be packed up with the decorations and stored in the attic for the next eleven months, hopefully without any felines expiring on them. Every December they would be unpacked and would wait patiently for Christmas Eve.

These books were a mixture of modern picture books and traditional stories: Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas; How The Grinch Stole Christmas; The Night Before Christmas and many others I’ve forgotten. Along with The Lord’s Prayer, The Night Before Christmas is embedded in my brain and could be recited without notes at the drop of a hat. Maybe.

At some point Dickens’ Christmas Books came into the house, they were a present to Number One daughter. She donated them to me (too many words, too fat, that’s fat with an ‘F’ not a ‘PH’). I never read these to the offspring (too many words, too many mince pies and sherry to consume). The whole bedtime reading habit has disappeared into history and now the Christmas books stay unpacked year after year.

A Christmas Carol is so well known, a bit over-used. With so many adaptions, rip-offs and homages it is difficult to read it with a fresh eye, but most versions seem to concentrate on the ghosts and gloss over the fact that his fiancé had left him when he was young, Scrooge was sad not bad. I love the way that Scrooge has become a adjective, but hate its lazy use. How many writers can claim an invented word of theirs has entered into the popular consciousness? People who have never read a word of Dickens know who Scrooge is, and know what he represents.

Dickens’ other Christmas stories have his traditional sentimentality, mistaken identity, coincidence and redemption. The Cricket on the Hearth is the one that stands out for me, partly because of the title; hearth is a word that we don’t hear enough of nowadays. And what is a cricket doing there?. It has the usual middle-aged man/young girl dynamic, (see Bleak House, Dombey and Son, The Old Curiosity Shop) self-sacrifice and good happy ending. Old Chas must have really loved Christmas.

I sit here with a tree in the corner, cards hanging up, many of them depicting snowy scenes that I have never seen at Christmas and reflect on whether the traditional Christmas that we try to recreate each year is based on Dickens’ idea of Christmas? Or at least Prince Albert and other Victorians’ view of what Christmas should be. Does Dickens’ ghost haunt us every year? Does he keep us on the Christmas straight and narrow?

I’m hope he would approve of the Christmas fare in the RB household: the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes; George Bailey learns the true value of his life; Scrooge turns over a new leaf; and Buddy marries Zooey Deschanel.

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