The Man Who Invented Christmas

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens rediscovered the great Christian festival that  had been on the wane in Great Britain since the latter part of the eighteenth century.  The fact is that  Dickens more than anybody else revived the English Christmas traditions which had nearly died out.

the man who invented christmas

Professor Les Standiford, author of  The Man Who Invented Christmas, says: “Dickens is responsible for Christmas as we know it. He obviously didn’t invent it as an idea, but what he did with A Christmas Carol began the process that led to what we have today.”

Christmas was barely celebrated at the start of the 1800s and December 25 was just a normal working day.“The holiday was still suffering the effects of the Puritan era and seen as a Pagan enterprise,” says Professor Standiford.

“The publication of A Christmas Carol added an emotional component to Christmas and changed it. We will never know what Christmas would be like without Charles Dickens, but it would never have been quite the same as we enjoy today without him.”

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Although Dickens celebrated the festival of Christ’s birth in numerous works, it is A Christmas Carol, published on 19 December 1843, that has preserved the Christmas customs of olde England and fixed our image of the holiday season as one of wind, ice, and snow without, and piping hot turkey, and family cheer within. Coming from a family large but not-too-well-off, Charles Dickens presents again and again his idealized memory of a Christmas associated with the gathering of the family which “bound together all our home enjoyments, affections and hopes” in games such as Snap Dragon and Blind Man’s Buff, both of which his model lower-middle-class father, Bob Cratchit, runs home to play on Christmas Eve.

Pickwick papers

Idealized images of snow-carpeted streets evoked by Dickens are to blame for our preoccupation with white Christmases, according to experts. The author persistently wrote of a Britain smothered in snow, which is actually rare in the UK.

A decade of unusually cold weather during his childhood influenced his description of Britons “scraping the snow from the pavements in front of their dwellings, and from the tops of their houses” on Christmas morning.

Six of Dickens’s first nine Christmases were white, including one in the winter of 1813-14 during which the ice on the River Thames was thick enough to bear the weight of an elephant.

snowy christmas

The Christmas tree, a German tradition, was introduced into England by Queen Victoria’s consort Prince Albert in December, 1840, the couple having been married just the previous February. The tree, lit by candles still in European countries, complemented the holly and mistletoe that the Anglo-Saxons ever since their arrival in Britain in the fifth century had used to decorate their homes at the mid-winter festival. Before Prince Albert’s innovation, better-off English homes had used the “kissing bough” as the main decoration for the season. Two hoops were joined to make a globe, decorated with greenery, oranges, and apples, and, of course, mistletoe.

victorian christmas tree

The Christmas cards we send each other bear mute testimony to the pervasive influence of the Dickensian Christmas, as if our cultural notion of the holiday is permanently arrested in the early 1830s in rural England, when Dickens, then just a cub reporter for the True London Sun was racing around the countryside covering political events. Christmas was never far away for Dickens at any stage of his life; it is there in his first book, The Pickwick Papers (which contains the prototype of A Christmas Carol, “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton,” the curmudgeon being the delightfully named Gabriel Grubb) and somewhat more gloomily in his last, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

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One of his sons wrote that, for Dickens, Christmas was “a great time, a really jovial time, and my father was always at his best, a splendid host, bright and jolly as a boy and throwing his heart and soul into everything that was going on…. And then the dance! There was no stopping him!”

Isn’t that the true spirit of Christmas even today?

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English Cottage Gardening – Bees Love Nepeta And So Do I

I love Nepeta aka catmint!  It’s also a favorite of honey bees and other pollinators. It’s deer resistant too!

Below one of my ever-present fluffy Bumbles enjoys a tasty snack…

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It is a beautiful plant to use in a border. Gertrude Jekyll wrote “it is a plant that can hardly be overpraised.”

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I find catmint easier to grow than lavender. If you cut it back after first bloom, it will bloom again just as vigorously.

My favorite cultivar is Walker’s Low which was the 2007 Perennial of the Year. The name, Walker’s Low, does not refer to the size of the plant, but to a garden in England.

Plant some catmint this summer. Your buzzing friends will thank you!

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May Morning In Oxford

May Morning is an annual event in Oxford, England, on May Day (1 May). It starts early at 6am with the Magdalen College Choir singing a hymn, the Hymnus Eucharisticus, from the top of Magdalen Tower, a tradition of over 500 years. Large crowds normally gather under the tower along the High Street and on Magdalen Bridge. This is then followed by general revelry and festivities including Morris dancing, impromptu music, etc., for a couple of hours. There is a party atmosphere, despite the early hour. In fact, there are normally all-night balls the night before, so some people (especially students) are in formal attire (e.g., black tie/white tie or ball gown).

Poetry Month – William Shakespeare – “This England…”

Shakespeare's Tomb

Shakespeare’s Tomb

This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden, demi-paradise,

This fortress built by Nature for herself

Against infection and the hand of war,

This happy breed of men, this little world,

This precious stone set in the silver sea,

Which serves it in the office of a wall,

Or as a moat defensive to a house,

Against the envy of less happier lands,

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

Richard II Act 2

William Shakespeare

Requiescat In Pace Margaret Thatcher

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It must be something in the British water. Or maybe it’s the fog.

Whatever it is, the Mother Country has been producing kick-ass women leaders since Boadica laid waste to Roman Londinium in the year 60 or thereabouts.

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Like many great leaders, Baroness Thatcher was a polarizing force politically. She took strong positions, some of which were difficult to justify. But even her enemies respected her intelligence and strength. There’s no question that she kicked butt and took names. She despised Communism and was instrumental in precipitating the collapse of the USSR.

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There will be much written about the Baroness, so I’ll limit myself to sharing a few anecdotes I heard Monday on National Public Radio.

Mrs. Thatcher liked to think of herself as royalty, going so far as to refer to herself with the royal “We.”  Think of Queen Victoria stating, “We are not amused.” Neither, apparently, was the Royal Family.

One Commentator opined that she ought to be compared to the Queen, but the Queen in question is Elizabeth I, not Elizabeth II.

Finally, a caller spoke of an occasion when he, his wife, and their young children met Mrs. Thatcher in Park City, Utah, of all places. The caller’s wife said to her, “My children think that you’re the Queen of England.”

Mrs. Thatcher replied, with a twinkle in her eye, “Don’t disillusion them, dear.”

Rest in peace, Baroness. And thank you.

Beautiful Beehives Of The Day

Hives at Kew Gardens in London

Hives at Kew Gardens in London

Kew Gardens has an educational bee habitat as part of a campaign to raise awareness of the need for a more bee-friendly planet.

Girl History Month – Mary Anne Evans AKA George Eliot

Mary Anne Evans aka George Eliot, Victorian Writer

Mary Anne Evans aka George Eliot, Victorian Writer

Most readers know Mary Anne Evans (22 November 1819 – 22 December 1880) by her pen name George Eliot, one of the leading writers of the Victorian era.

Evans wrote seven novels, including Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1871–72), and Daniel Deronda (1876), most of them set in provincial England and known for their realism and psychological insight.

She used a male pen name  to ensure her works would be taken seriously.  An additional factor in her use of a pen name may have been a desire to shield her private life from public scrutiny and to prevent scandals attending her relationship with the married George Henry Lewes, with whom she lived for over 20 years.

Her 1872 work, Middlemarch, has been described as the greatest novel in the English language.