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A Trolley at Christmas

Updated on June 5, 2015

Chapman & Hall, 186, Strand

HTML formatting and additional editing by Jose Menendez. Many thanks to David Widger for scanning the illustrations from his copy of the 1843 first edition.
HTML formatting and additional editing by Jose Menendez. Many thanks to David Widger for scanning the illustrations from his copy of the 1843 first edition. | Source

How I First Met Charles Dickens

My dad told me the story of A Christmas Carol when I was about six years old (1954). My dad was a great storyteller. We were on the trolley in Pittsburgh. My dad was wearing his khakis and military shoes from when he was stationed in the Pacific during WWII --- nine years before.

"Once upon a time, a man always said, 'Bah, humbug' when anybody wished him a 'Merry Christmas'. This man hated Christmas. He just kept saying, "Bah, Humbug!"

"One Christmas Eve he was getting ready to go to bed. He was sitting in front of the fire on the second floor. All of a sudden, he heard chains clinking up the staircase. He was the only one in the house. He lived alone on the second floor.

"There was even the sound of a train on the steps. He was really scared. Then, his buddy came walking through the door. His buddy had a chain around his waist, and a bunch of cashboxes and locks were attached to it.

"His buddy was already dead for seven years . . . "

Old Trolley, All Cleaned Up

These old trolleys didn't look this neat and spiffy inside back when my dad first told me about Ebenezer Scrooge. This is a real old trolley, but it would not have looked like this when it was running routes.
These old trolleys didn't look this neat and spiffy inside back when my dad first told me about Ebenezer Scrooge. This is a real old trolley, but it would not have looked like this when it was running routes.

I Thought Ebenezer Scrooge Was a Personal Acquaintance

My dad told me a greatly simplified version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol on the trolley that night. He didn't have the book with him. He also stripped out everything but the essentials, to make it more interesting to a little kid. We were on the trolley, and he would soon be dropping me off at my mom and stepdad's house. (My stepdad was also a veteran of World War II.)

But, I never forgot that story my dad told me on the trolley. I didn't find out until many years later that it was a "real" fictional and classic story. I'd thought my dad was telling me something that really happened to somebody he knew.

A Haunted Play

One December in 1990, I was on my way to see a local stage production of Dicken's A Christmas Carol.

On my way to that production, I found out my dad already passed away. He was only sixty three years old. I did not make it to that stage production of A Christmas Carol.

Five months later, my youngest son was born. He and I have had a tradition of reading A Christmas Carol in its entirety each December. We read one "Stave" each week in December. Dickens calls the chapters "Staves" in A Christmas Carol .

Pittsburgh Streamlined Trolleys

Pittsburgh Streamlined Trolleys (PA) (Images of Rail)
Pittsburgh Streamlined Trolleys (PA) (Images of Rail)
This book does not cover the exact year when my dad told me about Scrooge. Still, it looks good, with lots of pictures.

Dickens Without Cliches

Maybe some folks dismiss Dickens' A Christmas Carol as an old, shopworn tale.

In chapter twenty three, of Cleo Coyle's Holiday Grind: A Coffeehouse Mystery for Christmas, Clare Cosi says, "No, I've never actually read the Dickens story. But everyone knows about Scrooge, right? The terrible misanthrope who hated Christmas?"

For those of us who love it, read it and revel in its lyricism, language, and humor --- exactly as Dickens wrote it --- that's only a beginning glimpse. TV and movie productions rarely get close.

I know a very intelligent psychologist, playwright and expert Shakespearean who says that television, stage and movie enactments of A Christmas Carol are "plastic and insipid".

Illustrated London News' Drawing of Victoria and Albert Family With Christmas Tree From Germany | Source

It was soon after A Christmas Carol that Prince Albert brought that Christmas tree from Germany with him. There was a sketch (right) in the Illustrated London News of Victoria and Albert with the kids, standing around the Christmas tree.

But, at the time, Prince Albert thought of the tree as a German import, alien to England. It was not meant to be for the general public. The article below, "Fathering Christmas: Charles Dickens and the (Re)Birth of Christmas" explains how the tree --- and other tokens of Christmas --- became normalized due to the influence of Charles Dickens.

A Brief Excerpt from Fathering Christmas

Christmas, with its apparently timeless customs and traditions, often seems to have been around forever. However, as late as the 1820s, the writer Leigh Hunt labeled it an event “scarcely worth mention,” (from Pimlott, J.A.R., The Englishman's Christmas), and it was widely believed that the holiday, both in England and throughout Europe and North America, was destined to die out.

That was when Charles Dickens was about eight years old. Perhaps Dickens had heard mention of this "destiny?"

Scrooge Loses an Argument with his Nephew

"What else can I be," returned the uncle, "when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What's Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in 'em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will," said Scrooge indignantly, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!"

"Uncle!" pleaded the nephew.

"Nephew!" returned the uncle, sternly, "keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine."

"Keep it!" repeated Scrooge's nephew. "But you don't keep it."

"Let me leave it alone, then," said Scrooge. "Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!"

"There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say," returned the nephew. "Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that -- as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"


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