Tuesday, December 19, 2006

God Bless Us, Everyone!

Charles Dickens self-published A Christmas Carol on this date in 1843. His previous book, Martin Chuzzlewit if I'm remembering correctly, had been neither a commercial or critical success. Dickens was just divorced, badly in need of cash and thought a hopeful, happy, sentimental tale would sell. Within a week, Dickens was on his third press edition, and A Christmas Carol became the first of several annual Christmas stories. Dickens and A Christmas Carol are largely credited with restoring the celebration of Christmas to an industrialized England on the crest of a fundamentalist religious revival. Jolly Old England had become puritanical, overworked and disdainful of having a Holy Day also be a holiday.

I received my first copy on Christmas Day when I was eight years old. It was a delightful hardbound copy. The fabric binding alternated vertical red stripes with tiny white polka dots with a white stripe with a repeating holly leaf motif. Each page had a red border at the top with another repeating pattern of Christmas trees. Every few pages or so, there was a pen and ink drawing with watercolor wash highlights in red and green. I remember carefully inscribing it, Presented to Cynthia by her aunt and uncle on Christmas Day, December 25, 1968, in my large and childish hand. The book was way over my head when I was eight. I remember reading it next to the large (roughly six inches deep) unabridged dictionary in the den so I could actually understand some of the words I was reading.

I still have this book. The front cover is torn off. Tape holds many of the pages in, but I can't verify that they're all there. This book has been read and re-read many times, and it still ranks as one of my all time best Christmas presents. It was such a nice edition that it felt luxurious. Reading about the typeface and the paper used made that eight year old chubby little bookworm feel sophisticated and mature. It was a gift that said, "I know what your interests are, and I support them. I love you for who you are."

Every year around this time, I re-read A Christmas Carol. It's a homecoming of sorts for me. Dickens was one of the authors that helped usher in more mature reading tastes than Nancy Drew. I'll never put down the titian haired girl detective, but books have given me so much more than a taste for clues. The edition I pick up now to read is your basic paperback. My cherished childhood copy is far too delicate, but it was the beginning of a personal Christmas tradition that has lasted 28 years.

It's time to savor those opening words, "Marley was dead, to begin with." It's time to see a trembling, liver spotted hand pull back bed curtains with fear. It's time for the Cratchitt children to stuff their mouths with spoons to keep their Christmas anticipation at bay. It's time for 20 Questions and Blind Man's Bluff at Scrooge's nephew's house. It's time for the Fezziwigs to dance until they're winded and red in the face. It's time to remember that this can be "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!"

Christmas presents, traditions, books, Dickens


Blogger Lisa :-] said...

A couple of years ago, I bought a little hard-bound copy of this book, and the husband and I took turns reading chapters aloud. Now I have to go find that book and carve out some time to read it.

December 20, 2006 11:16 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

You know, I've read 4 or 5 of his books, but never that once. It works too well as a film, I guess.

December 20, 2006 8:44 PM  

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