24 November 2010

31 Days Until Christmas

The Man Who Invented Christmas, Les Standiford
In 1843, Charles Dickens was in difficult financial straits. While his first few books had been hits, his latest was selling slowly and bills were due. As he worried over this truncated income, he was one of a group of men who appeared at one of the poorest of the free schools and was appalled by the hunger and poverty he saw, hunger not only physical but emotional and spiritual.

He wanted to not only increase his income, but provide some recognition for the poor. Years earlier he has written a short story about a parsimonious church deacon who is visited by ghosts. Perhaps he could rework that idea...and when the idea struck him, it struck hard: thus A Christmas Carol was born.

This little book is a good accounting of Dickens' life at the time of its publication, of the state of London's poor, and of the little regard given to Christmas in that era, since it had been quenched by Oliver Cromwell two centuries earlier. Dickens, of course, did not "invent" Christmas, but he invented a new way of looking at it: not high revelry in rich courts as it had been before the commonwealth, but a family-centered, charity-centered celebration. If you are interested in how Christmas got its start being a family holiday rather than an excuse for drunkenness, you should enjoy Standiford's volume. However, I don't think it's worth the list price placed upon it; this is a good book to buy used or at remainder prices.

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