Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Charles Dickens rescues Christmas with A Christmas Carol

During this week in 1843, Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol in Prose: Being A Ghost Story of Christmas. Let me tell you a little known fact (although, quite well known to the literary world): we can thank Charles Dickens for saving our modern day celebration of Christmas!  Yep, Charles Dickens, the Victorian author, saved the celebration of Christmas when he published the instantly popular A Christmas Carol!

An authorial context: Dickens authentically represented a broad range of British population through his true depictions of life among various socio-economic backgrounds. Essentially, through his writing, he became a voice for the abused, ill-treated lower classes and raised awareness to better working conditions, living conditions, child labor reform, etc.  His vivid characters unforgettably imprint themselves to memory and everyday conversation, point-in-case: "Scrooge" has become a vocabulary word, a noun meaning miser or the like.  Consequently, Dickens' characters and authenticity endeared him to the vast reading public and made him equivalent to a modern day rock-star.  Seriously, he is recognized as one of the very first "celebrities" in history.

Christmas needed rescuing? Due to Oliver Cromwell's influence in the mid 1600s (a.k.a. the English Civil War), the British slowly neglected the Medieval traditions of caroling and feasting during the Christmas season until Prince Albert (Queen Victoria's husband, mid 1800s) gallantly reintroduced the Germanic traditions of caroling and cards and, most significantly, introduced the Christmas tree.

What was Dickens's part in this rescue?  Well, even though Prince Albert did his part to reintroduce English and Germanic Christmas traditions, he worked against the routines and national mindset established by the Industrial Revolution. You see, British businessmen, manufacturing employers, and mill owners had grown quite stingy -- think Scrooge -- by treating Christmas as just another 10-12 hour workday.  So the impoverished, working class toiled through Christmas Day without any additional compensation.

So, in late 1843, Dickens published A Christmas Carol, creating some of the most memorable characters in literature.  And in contrasting a stingy Scrooge with a poor suffering Tiny Tim Crachit and jolly Christmas celebrators Nephew Fred and Fizziwig against the backdrop of ghosts past-present-and-future, Dickens lured the public into a benevolent celebration of Christmas.  Consider: wouldn't you rather be identified with Fizziwig than with Scrooge?!!

The rest is, as they say, history: Christmas once again became a season of giving and charitable behavior on both sides of the Atlantic.  Dickens, through his story, helped reestablish our present day mind-set of Christmas as a season of renewal in goodwill, "peace on earth to all men," and familial bonds.

"And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!" (Dickens 158).

The featured edition: In discovering P. J. Lynch's illustrated version of A Christmas Carol (c. 2006), I have found the quintessential copy of Dickens' enduring tale.  What amazes me is how well Lynch captures Dickens' characters!  This is an illustrator who not only knows his author's works, but must have researched those illustrators who worked so closely with Dickens -- think ocd authorial input on each illustration.  I'd like to think that if Dickens were alive today, he wouldn't be more pleased with Lynch's representation of his classic Christmas tale. Take time this holiday season to read Dickens A Christmas Carol, and if you get the opportunity, read P. J. Lynch's beautifully illustrated edition.  I guarantee you, if the story doesn't haunt you, the illustrations will.

Disclaimer: it's very difficult for me to give credit where credit is due because I'm working from memory on this post.  I'm writing from decades of reading and admiring Charles Dickens and his many works.  I'm also writing from memory of various college lectures, in particular from a Dickens Seminar course.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Good King Wenceslas

Do you know what I love about this season?  I love:
  • packing our Operation Christmas Child boxes
  • selecting gifts in the Samaritan's Purse Gift Catalog with the kids
  • hearing the Salvation Army bells ring, 
  • reading all the charity benefit concerts, dinners, raffles, etc. being held, 
  • hearing of opportunities to take dry goods or meals to shut-ins, and 
  • discovering different opportunities to donate time and/or funds to help the less fortunate.  
Seriously, if you're not giving something of yourself during this season, it's certainly not from lack of opportunity!

So during this season of "Peace on earth, goodwill to men," King Wenceslas stands out as a model.  You're familiar with the traditional carol, but do you know its origin?  Well, the story of Good King Wenceslas shows us the purpose and the motive behind such benevolent, seasonal giving.  John Mason Neale, an English Anglican priest, wrote the words to the carol "Good King Wenceslas" in 1853, for the feast following Christmas Day called Saint Stephen.  Tradition holds that Neale derived his inspiration from actual events influenced by the just-minded and kindhearted King Wenceslas, ruler of tenth century Bohemia or the present day Czech Republic.  In fact, a statue of King Wenceslas, or now Saint Wenceslas, stands in Wenceslas Square in Prague.  (For photos of that statue, look at

Check out this fascinating book Good King Wenceslas (c. 2005), which looks at the story behind the inspiration of the carol.  Tim Ladwig's remarkable illustrations give us a modern peak into the past.  And be sure to take longer than a passing glance at that last illustration.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Twelve Days of Christmas

This is such a FUN book!  The kids and I are consistently mesmerized by Hilary Knight's illustrations, and his version of The Twelve Days of Christmas (c. 1981, 2001) proves no exception!  In fact, this copy has proven quite a friend to the bed-ridden, flu-stricken children this week.

Talk about green living, look at the use of space and  furnishings in this cottage!

Each time the kids pick it up, they find another hidden delight.  Knight's detailed illustrations do not cease to entertain while revealing yet another surprise.

Knight gives us a page by page tour of this darling house; if only it were a REAL dollhouse!

Needless to say, Hilary Knight weaves several tales in his ingenius, watercolor and colored penciled pictures.  Unearth them for yourself and be newly delighted by a familiar carol.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The MUST-read Christmas Book List

Here's our family's top 32 recommendations for the MUST-read Christmas Book List.
Click on the link to check out more book images and discover a brief synopsis of each story.  If the title doesn't have a link yet, check back, for I'll have a posting by the end of December.

The Classics:

The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore
The Very First Christmas:

The Twelve Days of Christmas:

The Nutcracker:

The stories that will warm your heart:

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Our Eight Nights of Hanukkah

Our Eight Nights of Hanukkah by Michael J. Rosen and illustrated by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan a boy explains the history of Hanukkah while narrating his experiences over the eight day holiday with his family and friends.