Sunday, December 18, 2022

"It’s never too late to make amends"

From "How Dickens invented Christmas":
.... When Dickens sat down to write A Christmas Carol, Christmas was still a relatively low-key affair, and many of its festive trappings were conspicuous by their absence. It was merely the first day in a twelve-day holiday, which reached its climax on 5 January, the night before Epiphany, aka Twelfth Night.

The marginal significance of Christmas was reflected in Anglican liturgy. Advent was an austere affair, a time of quiet contemplation rather than celebration. Christmas (Christ’s Mass) wasn’t an important feast day in the Anglican calendar. ....

However, by the time Dickens embarked on A Christmas Carol, such attitudes were changing. The new Oxford Movement had begun to agitate for a less Puritanical C of E. Christmas Trees (introduced by George III’s German wife, Charlotte of Mecklenburg, and popularised by another German consort, Prince Albert) were becoming increasingly prominent, partly due to German immigrants to Britain’s industrial cities. In December 1843, the same month that A Christmas Carol was published, the director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, Sir Henry Cole, sent the first recorded Christmas Card. ....

Always a hands-on author, with an instinctive flair for marketing, Dickens oversaw the design of A Christmas Carol, and he made sure that it was specifically promoted as the ideal Christmas present. With a burgundy cover, embossed in gold, and hand-painted colour illustrations, it was an instant hit, selling six thousand copies in the first few days after publication. ....

Happily, Dickens’ book is still widely read ... but its biggest impact in recent times has been on screen and stage. The screen adaptations are almost too numerous to count, cementing Scrooge as one of the landmark roles for male actors of a certain age. .... From where I’m sitting (on a saggy sofa strewn with Quality Street wrappers and other Christmas detritus) the 1951 film, starring Alistair Sim, remains the definitive dramatisation. ....

But why? .... A Christmas Carol provides the respite of a happy ending, but it doesn’t shy away from suffering. Its depictions of illness, grief and poverty are painfully real (as in all his greatest fiction, Dickens mined the hardship of his early life to fuel this fable – like Scrooge, he had a sister who died in childhood, of tuberculosis).

Yet I reckon there’s also a deeper reason, and the clue is in the title. As its name suggests, A Christmas Carol has a profound religious subtext, rooted in the Christian creed of repentance and forgiveness. The moral of A Christmas Carol is that it’s never too late to make amends. The proliferation of Christmas carols indicates that, while we may be losing our appetite for churchgoing, we haven’t yet lost our appetite for the Good News of the Gospels. .... (more)
William Cook, "How Dickens invented Christmas," The Spectator, Dec. 18, 2022.

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