Friday, 24 December 2010

Twenty-Fourth Day of Advent : Christmas Eve

- December 24th : Christmas Eve -

When Charles Dickens’ classic yuletide tale, A Christmas Carol, was first published in 1843 there was a feeling throughout Great Britain that the moral fibre of society was slowly disintegrating. Not only this but Christmastime itself was already becoming immensely unpopular and, as a consequence, was beginning to die out, particularly in Britain.

Queen Victoria had only been on the throne for six years and her husband, Prince Albert, had already begun to introduce new elements into the celebration of Christmas from his homeland of Germany (most famously the Christmas tree and the Christmas card). The consequences of this, along with the timely publication of Dickens’ first Christmas Book, had a considerable impact upon the way Victorian society began to perceive this ancient Christian festival.

It has often been said that Charles Dickens’ set of five Christmas Books, A Christmas Carol in particular, had an enormous influence on the sudden resurrection in the popularity of Christmas in the mid-1800s, and there’s no doubt it is still one of the most treasured and beloved works of literary fiction, either a Christmas or anyother time of the year.

I’ve said this before somewhere on this blog, but - I read this novel every year in the run up to Christmas; starting on December 20th, with one chapter a day, finishing on Christmas Eve. Have done for the past two decades. It’s as much a part of the Christmas tradition for me as turkey and stuffing!

Some people dismiss the novel as an unimportant bit of Christmas fluff - many basing their spurious judgments on the many adaptations they’ve watched over the years, many varying wildly in quality. But this is simply not true. Although it has a very warm and shining message at its very core, A Christmas Carol can be at times a frighteningly dark and brooding read. Remember this is a ‘ghost story’ after all.

The novel’s grimmest moments come, perhaps, at the conclusion of the Third Stave, as the first chimes of midnight have begun to toll and the Ghost of Christmas Present is about depart.

“"Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask," said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit's robe, "but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?"
"It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it," was the Spirit's sorrowful reply. "Look here."
From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.
"Oh, Man, look here! Look, look, down here!" exclaimed the Ghost.
They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.
Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.
"Spirit, are they yours?" Scrooge could say no more.
"They are Man's," said the Spirit, looking down upon them. "And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!" cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. "Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end."

An article posted on Shimmerzine recently talked, amongst other things, about the importance of a cracking, attention-grabbing first line; something that A Christmas Carol has by the bucketful. Striking a particularly spooky note, which sets up the mood of the novel beautifully.

“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.”

Dickens’ classic has been adapted for stage dozens of times over the years (including my own version that is currently running in the US in three separate productions) and, inevitably, has seen many film and TV versions. Some of the best being:

- Old Scrooge (Film - 1913)
- Scrooge (Film - 1951)
- Scrooge (BBC Radio - 1951)
- A Christmas Carol (BBC Radio - 1953)
- A Christmas Carol (Richard Williams short animated - 1971)
- A Christmas Carol (BBC TV - 1977)
- Mickey’s Christmas Carol (Disney animated - 1983)
- A Christmas Carol (Film - 1984)
- The Muppet Christmas Carol (Film - 1992)

If you haven’t read the novel yet (maybe you’ve been put off reading it because you’ve seen so many adaptations) I strongly advise that you get your hands on a copy. You don’t *have* to read it at Christmas (it’s such a powerfully accessible novel it can be read any time of the year) but it’s definitely more of a potent read during the festive period. So, next time you’re “keeping Christmas in your own way” try keeping it with a copy of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol close at hand.

And that brings an end to my Christmas Advent Blog Countdown. All that remains to say is may your have a very Merry Christmas, whatever personal beliefs you may have, and I hope to see you all again on the other side of the festive season…probably a few pounds heavier!

And so, “As Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Everyone!”

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