Dickensian Christmas Trees

Picture from copyright-free-pictures.org.uk
Picture from copyright-free-pictures.org.uk

Literary heritage

One of my favourite stories has always been A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It has everything including a mysterious ghost, time travel and Christmas. Charles Dickens was fond of Christmas and in an era when Utilitarianism dictated everything should have a mundane and practical application, he promoted the magical side of Christmas through his writings, and embroidered the celebrations with details such as the decorations we associate with Christmas today.

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The Ghost of Marley (Pictures scanned by David Widger from the 1843 first edition. Found online at gutenburg.org)Old Fezziwig's Ball (Pictures scanned by David Widger from the 1843 first edition. Found online at gutenburg.org)Christmas Ghost (Pictures scanned by David Widger from the 1843 first edition. Found online at gutenburg.org)
The Ghost of Marley (Pictures scanned by David Widger from the 1843 first edition. Found online at gutenburg.org)
The Ghost of Marley (Pictures scanned by David Widger from the 1843 first edition. Found online at gutenburg.org)
Old Fezziwig's Ball (Pictures scanned by David Widger from the 1843 first edition. Found online at gutenburg.org)
Old Fezziwig's Ball (Pictures scanned by David Widger from the 1843 first edition. Found online at gutenburg.org)
Christmas Ghost (Pictures scanned by David Widger from the 1843 first edition. Found online at gutenburg.org)
Christmas Ghost (Pictures scanned by David Widger from the 1843 first edition. Found online at gutenburg.org)

In A Christmas Carol Ebineezer Scrooge is a miserly bachelor who has become absorbed in accumulating gold and consider’s Christmas to be a waste of a working afternoon. His response to Christmas wishes is “Bah, humbug” a phrase now famous for its succinctness. He threatens a carol singer and proceeds home to endure his miserable solitary Christmas. However, his former partner, Jacob Marley, who is chained and burdened by his greed in the afterlife appears as a Ghost to exhort Scrooge to change his ways before it is too late.

Scrooge is the surprised by the visits of three supernatural beings who take him on a tour of Christmas celebrations filled with Christmas paraphernalia. For example, Fezziwigs’ charity ball features dancing, cake a roast, mince pies, drink and much merriment. A father arrives home with Christmas presents when they visit the home of Scrooge’s former sweetheart, on a tour conducted by the Ghost of Christmas Past.

The Ghost of Christmas present appears surrounded by holly, mistletoe and Ivy alongside a table piled with all sorts of meat, pudding and cakes. The Ghost is dressed in green, however, so he is not the traditional Saint Nicholas, but rather a human version of a Christmas tree! He takes Scrooge to visit the house of his employee Bob Cratchet, where the family is merry, despite being poor and having a disabled child. There is a small goose and a home-made pudding to be eaten.

Scrooge’s neice and nephew have rowdy parlour games, music and have just finished a large dinner replete with desert.

The final spirit shows more sombre scenes after Scrooge’s lonely death, but these are a tool to promote his repentance and final embrace of the Christmas Cheer. When he awakens and finds Christmas has not passed him by, he orders a gift of food for the Cratchet family and attends his Nephew’s Christmas dinner.

The story has developed a mythology of its own and inspired a number of plays and movies.

Picture courtesy: www.cliparttop100.com
Picture courtesy: www.cliparttop100.com

Decorating the Tree myself as a child...

Wonderful Christmas memories include putting up the tree. I asked my Mother how soon I could put up the tree each year and she said "not before the 30th of November", so I waited with eager anticipation. (I believe that the shops start putting their Christmas products out around the beginning of November nowadays, but that seems to make the season just a little less magical.)

My mother also said that the tree was "a lot of work" so I promised to vacuum before I put it up, keep the floor tidy around it while it was standing and vacuum after putting it away.

Our shed held a wonderful selection of glass baubles, sparkling thread coloured balls, tinsel streamers, small santas, and my personal favourite - the shiny miniature presents.

I tried to select a different theme each year, for example, I put an angel on the top of the tree one year, and a star on top the next year. sometimes I had a special decoration I had made at school which I could add to the collection. Sometimes I used more green and red ornaments, other times I used more white and yellow.

When the decorations were finished I loved draping the tree with small strips of silver paper which I imagined looked like snow. Living in a hot country like Australia, snow was something rarely seen and very precious to the imagination.

My Mother was not very fond of electric light sets, partly because of the fire danger, and partly because they were very fiddly and if one bulb blew, the whole string would not glow. therefore lights were not a big feature of our tree, but with the glitter balls, the light from another room could create a spectacular effect anyway...

Some people take the tree down for new years, but I begged to have it standing until January 6, which was the date for Epiphany when it is traditionally held that the Wise Men visited the Christ Child.

Photo courtesty Bigphoto.com
Photo courtesty Bigphoto.com

Making ornaments at school

I got the impression that everyone at school shared my love of Christmas, including the teacher. According to the Lutheran tradition, Martin Luther adopted the Christmas tree as a Christian symbol; and one year we all made special ornaments out of Styrofoam. These ornaments were cut into shapes such a the triangle and circle of the trinity, and painted with metallic paint or glitter. They were hung on a huge live pine tree at the front of the church during the Christmas season. I remember going to the church to sing stirring carols. Each attendee had a candle to hold, and the church lights were dimmed. Our teacher played the organ, and I expect she had a small lamp by which to see. those hand made ornaments exist to this day and I sometimes see them out on a tree in the local town hall on Christmas eve.

Trees for small spaces:

When I became an adult and was a parent myself, I was more concious of the work involved in preparations for the Christmas season, but I very much enjoyed cooking a Christmas dinner. Things would go in the oven around 9 in the morning to be just perfect when that special lunch hour arrived.

The tree was now a plastic one which would not drop leaves/needles and was quite easy to prepare, but it could still look quite nice and I enjoyed selecting and wrapping the presents to go under it for the children.

Santa stockings were a faviourite of mine and I would hunt for the nicest selection each year. Now my children are older, but I still look out for something full of lollies and fun items for them to help the Christmas spirit along...

We lived in a unit when the children were small and I found a tree which was just right for that space, not too small and not too large. The challenge then was to collect as many small ornaments that would compliment the tree as possible.

These included balls in the smaller size, streamers which would not overpower the tree and a selection of little deer and other novelty items. I also had some plastic candy canes, which eventually had to have their stripes painted back on with nail polish because the children thought they might be lollies and tried to unwrap them!

Charles Dickens' Chalet

Picture by Chris Light, from: picturesofengland.com
Picture by Chris Light, from: picturesofengland.com

Dickens References

* Dickens, C. A Christmas Carol (any edition)

* Dickens,C. Miscellaneous papers from 'The Morning Chronicle','The Daily News', 'The Examiner', 'Household Words', 'AlltheYear Round', ETC. (London: Chapman & Hall, LTD., 1914)

* Dickens, C. Selected Letters of Charles Dickens (Ed. Paroissien, D.) (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1985)

* Houghton, W.E. The Victorian Frame of Mind: 1830-1870 (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1970)

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1 comment

Charito1962 profile image

Charito1962 3 months ago from Manila, Philippines

“A Christmas Carol” is also my favorite Dickens story, Cecelia. In fact, every Christmastime, I love watching the film adaptation, “Scrooge”, with Albert Finney in the title role.

I also have fond memories of decorating the Christmas tree and putting up the ornaments. But now that I’m an adult, I find more meaning in enhancing the Nativity set which - I believe - symbolizes the true meaning of Christmas!

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