Reading “A Christmas Tree” by Charles Dickens

Arguably Charles Dickens’ words helped to create the Victorian Christmas as much as any illustrator.

 I mentioned before that the novella, A Christmas Carol, was just the start of his Christmas stories, and for many years, Dickens published a Christmas short story annually in the magazine he edited, Household Words

The first, in 1850, was “A Christmas Tree.”  There are many websites that feature the entire text, one that I have linked here.  The tree takes on magical proportions, as it does in our own homes, especially in the darkened house.  Any plain ornament is transformed in the sparkling lights.

In the story, the narrator imagines the decorations on a Christmas tree and the stories that those decorations inspire.  Early in the story, he describes some of the objects including “real watches (with movable hands, at least, and an endless capacity of being wound up) dangling from innumerable twigs.” 

I was captivated by this idea, and I began to imagine how exciting it would be to have a “time” themed tree next year.  There are so many antique stores and flea markets where I could probably buy some interesting pieces.  Craft stores sell other clock items, too.  (I digress, as usual.)

In the story, the narrator describes several ghosts, including one of a drowned housekeeper who wanders the halls trying her ghostly keys in locks.  She haunts the entire house but also a particular room where there hangs that portrait of the man who jilted her.  Scary ghost stories are part of Victorian Christmas for certain!

I find that reading Dickens aloud is the only way to really appreciate the magnificence of his craft.  People who had to read Dickens in high school (remember Great Expectations or Tale of Two Cities?) often have negative memories of his difficult syntax, but they missed the humor of the characterization that comes with reading aloud.

My next personal challenge is to read all of Dickens’ Christmas short stories.  It would be a great tradition to read one aloud each Christmas!

In the short story, he writes this beautiful passage: 

And I do come home at Christmas. We all do, or we all should. We all come home, or ought to come home, for a short holiday, the longer, the better, from the great boarding-school, where we are for ever working at our arithmetical slates, to take, and give a rest. As to going a visiting, where can we not go, if we will; where have we not been, when we would; starting our fancy from our Christmas Tree!

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