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A Dickensian Christmas

The mean old Ebenezer Scrooge is seen conducting business in the opening illustration of A Christmas Carol. Image courtesy of Preston Park Museum and Grounds.

“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.” – Ebenezer Scrooge

When we think of a traditional Christmas, most of us think of the Victorian Christmas, food laid out on a large table, a loving family, warm open fires with snow falling outside and children playing happily with simple toys…

This is mainly due to the author Charles Dickens. In December 1843 he changed the way we think about Christmas forever by publishing his best-known novel, A Christmas Carol. This story came to define what the Christmas spirit is all about, charity, kindness and family get togethers. Christmas has been celebrated in this way for hundreds of years but because of the industrial revolution, mass population and the swelling of cities, the ‘Christmas spirit’ was wearing thin until Dickens revitalised the holiday with his Christmas novel.

Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol book, showing the highly decorated front cover with a central tree and mini cherub faces going up and down in a pattern. The title of the book is embossed on a gold colour background. Overall background colour is a pale cream and the cherubs and tree are blue.
Front cover of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, with blue cherub faces making a pattern across the page. Image courtesy of Preston Park Museum and Grounds.

The main character, Ebenezer Scrooge goes through an awaking with the help of ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. He becomes a reformed character, learning to enjoy the Christmas holiday with love and kindness. Thanks to this novel we have words that we associate with Christmas, such as ‘scrooge’ and ‘Bah! Humbug!’. The story even popularised the phrase ‘Merry Christmas.’

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future.” – Ebenezer Scrooge, at the end of the story.

Green tail coat from the 1860s on top of a cream waist coat with a flower pattern. Turned to an angle This 1860s waist coat and tail coat are perfect for a Dickensian Christmas! We can picture Dickens himself wearing it on one of his reading tours. Image courtesy of The Dorman Museum, Middlesbrough.

For centuries people have celebrated Christmas time by bringing in winter foliage into the house decorating surfaces with evergreen garlands, holly, and mistletoe. But in 1848, the Christmas tree was made popular by Prince Albert who brought the tree tradition over from Germany, his homeland.

In the same year an illustration of Queen Victorian and Prince Albert was published showing them decorating a Christmas tree with their young children. Prince Albert also sent decorated trees to schools and army barracks in Windsor. The British public were hooked and having a Christmas tree in the home to decorate became the must have item at Christmas. Other popular decorations included gingerbread, candles and baubles.

Black and white illustration of prince albert and queen Victoria admiring a central large Christmas tree on a table, surrounded by their four children.  Black and white illustration of prince albert and queen Victoria admiring a central large Christmas tree on a table, surrounded by their five children.

Today we have many different decorations to choose from, but the Christmas tree is still the centre piece for many households who still like to gather round the Christmas tree on December 25th where presents are laid out ready for children to unwrap and enjoy.