A Christmas Tree by Charles Dickens

Judith @ Reader in the Wilderness has been looking at some Christmas books, this is one which I sometimes read to try to get me in the mood, maybe not a classic Dickens but worth reading if you’re into Christmas or Dickens.

Charles Dickens generally gets the kudos for inventing or reviving many of our Christmas traditions, if you want to read a bit more about his attitude to the festival have a look here. Apparently Christmas trees don’t feature in any of his Christmas books, I wouldn’t know because Dickens is one Victorian novelist whom I avoid. In fact the only thing of his which I’ve got to the end of is his wee story A Christmas Tree. I have a nice illustrated copy of it, which like many of my books is packed away at the moment.

A Christmas Tree book

It’s a very quick read, a bit odd in that it also features ghosts, or maybe that’s a normal feature of a Dickens Christmas, anyway, if like me you can only stomach a teeny bit of Dickens, I admit it’s because I feel so appalled at his treatment of his poor wife that I don’t read him, so judgemental of me I know!

Anyway, I love Christmas trees and as I recall, it’s his description of the tree which I enjoyed in this short story, the things which were decorating it, including a mask which he was scared of. You can read it here.

A Christmas Tree by Charles Dickens

This is a short story by Charles Dickens and I must admit that it’s the only thing of his that I’ve ever actually got to the end of. That isn’t saying much because it’s only 40 pages long. It’s a very wee book with quite a lot of illustrations by HM Brock. You can read it here. I first read the story about 20 years ago, I wasn’t feeling at all Christmassy and when I saw this lovely wee book in a second-hand book shop I thought it might help me get into the spirit of it all. Ho Ho Ho! – and all that.

To begin with it did conjure up Victorian images of all the traditional decorations that could be found on a Christmas tree. But Dickens just couldn’t stop himself from adding Christmas ghost stories and dead children! I suppose it might have seemed uplifting to your average Victorian, given the child mortality rate in those days.

I don’t know if my attitude towards reading Dickens has been coloured by the fact that from an early age I knew that he was a bit of a swine to his wife. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not a good thing to know a lot about the private lives of authors because it can be really off-putting. Quite a few of them seem to have been bad and dangerous to know – if not actually mad too.

Should I give Dickens another whirl sometime in the future?

Charles Dickens in Berwick upon Tweed

On the way back home from Northumberland we stopped off at Berwick upon Tweed. It’s a border town which is famous for being fought over by the English and Scottish. It has been in English hands for quite some time now but it continues to have the feel of a Scottish place. Architecturally it’s completely Scottish.

I don’t know if that’s a good thing because there’s nothing worse than grey stone for making a place look and feel really depressing. It was especially noticeable after visiting Newcastle and Durham which are both really vibrant towns and seem to be thriving despite the horrendous recession. I think possibly Berwick is just too close to those cities and everybody high tails it to the brighter lights for their shopping. There were lots of empty and very dilapidated looking shops.

But, in its glory days Charles Dickens did a reading at a hotel there. I’m wondering if there is a large town anywhere which he missed out!

The hotel looks very run down now. Painting grey stonework cream doesn’t really help, especially if it’s flaking off, but I’m sure it was a different matter in 1861.

Christmas

Well, I suppose I had to give in sometime but I can’t say that I feel at all festive. Obviously I’ll have to put some effort into it. In years past I’ve gone down the road of the big traditional Victorian tree and I’ve even made the oranges studded with cloves, in fact I’ve still got some of them in my wardrobe. I think that it is easier to get into the spirit of it all when you have small children.

Do not be thinking that we had wee boys who were writing letters to Santa or any of that nonsense. As I was the youngest in my family I was teeny when I found out from my teenage brothers and sisters that there was no such person as Santa. I can still remember what a complete idiot I felt, even although I was probably only about 3 years old. I even remember thinking that I would never tell such a lie to a child and I stuck by that when I had children of my own. I just told them that Santa had lived a long time ago, but he was dead now and people just gave each other presents to remember him and to cheer ourselves up in the dark, cold winter.

I was really proud of them when they came home from nursery school and told me that they had had to explain to the other children that Santa was dead. As you can imagine, I was very popular with the other mums, ho ho ho , by their looks I think they could have strung me up. I just smiled angelically at them.

Anyway, it doesn’t mean that you can’t still have a good time and to get myself into the Christmas spirit I sometimes resort to reading a very slim volume by Charles Dickens called A Christmas Tree. I’m not really into Dickens but I must admit he does do Christmas very well.

It begins with a description of a Victorian Christmas starting with the tree which is laden with all sorts of goodies, many of them made in Wolverhampton! For some reason Dickens seemed to link Christmas with ghosts and they feature in this wee book too.

It reminds me that I always used to buy chocolate watch decorations for our real tree and chocolate soldiers too but I haven’t been able to get them in the shops for the past few years now.

Being me, I’m swithering about getting a real tree or not this year. We usually put one in the sitting-room, which is hardly ever used now that we don’t have boys practising on the pianos in there. Yes that was supposed to be plural, one upright and one inherited boudoir grand, how are we ever going to downsize?

It seems a waste of a living tree really, but I suppose that is what they are grown for. Also I’m mad with myself for swithering over keeping the real fire or getting a fake gas one and opting for the gas one, as there is nothing like a real fire for mesmerising comfort during the winter. Too late, it’s gas now.

So in the next few days I’ll be giving in and joining all my neighbours who started the decorating lark far too early. Watch out for the photographs, hopefully they wont be too tacky.