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Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[LINK] “Charles Dickens: Father Christmas”

Over in today’s National Post, Robert Fulford has an article (“Charles Dickens: Father Christmas”) in which he talks at length about the role played by Charles Dickens in defining modern Christmas.

I was talking the other day with Philip Allingham of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., an expert on this subject since he wrote his PhD dissertation on dramatic versions of Dickens’ Christmas books. He sees the great accomplishment of Dickens as a work of rediscovery. Celebration of Christmas having been a mainly rural practice for a long time, it lost its hold on the British public early in the 19th century as they moved into cities.

Separated from their specific regional cultures, they abandoned many of their ceremonies, including Christmas parties.

As I understand Allingham, Dickens, through his writings, invented a kind of national Christmas, based on tradition and the “Christmas spirit” his characters did or did not embody. A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, “fixed our image of the holiday season as one of wind, ice, and snow without” and “piping hot turkey and family cheer within.” It was Dickens’ idealized recollection of Christmas. England embraced his memories and from England they spread around the world. They formed into an institution that proved durable even among people who had lost their Christian faith and in countries (Japan a striking example) where Christians were a small minority.

Katherine Ashenburg, recently the author of The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History, also wrote her PhD dissertation on Dickens and Christmas. As she sees it, the image of Christmas in Dickens steadily darkens over the years. At the beginning it provides him with a symbol of the communal life and a demonstration of the way people should be treated. But as he grows older, angrier and more pessimistic, his Christmas stories increasingly reflect his feelings about how badly the poor are treated by those with money and power. He reflected what Victorians called “the hungry Forties,” when a drop in trade and bad harvests led to widespread misery.

All this found a way into the Christmas stories, along with surprising elements like alcoholism and adultery. There were many prickles on Dickens’ holly, as an English critic, D.L. Murray, wrote. Dickens has often been accused of preaching a philosophy of sugar plums and draughts of punch, plastered with sentimentality. But he really believed, Murray says, “that salvation could be found only in realistic acceptance of life as a whole with an unembittered spirit.”

Written by Randy McDonald

December 23, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Posted in Assorted

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