Let your photo(s) tell your story.
Do you have a favorite or traditional Christmas candy?
Let your photo(s) tell your story.
Do you have a favorite or traditional Christmas candy?
It’s that time of year again – time for me to blog about one of my favorite books, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Recently, my library book-club chose Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva – a fictionalized account of how this famous book came to be written.
Publishers Blurb: Charles Dickens is not feeling the Christmas spirit. His newest book is an utter flop, the critics have turned against him, relatives near and far hound him for money. While his wife plans a lavish holiday party for their ever-expanding family and circle of friends, Dickens has visions of the poor house. But when his publishers try to blackmail him into writing a Christmas book to save them all from financial ruin, he refuses. And a serious bout of writer’s block sets in.
Frazzled and filled with self-doubt, Dickens seeks solace in his great palace of thinking, the city of London itself. On one of his long night walks, in a once-beloved square, he meets the mysterious Eleanor Lovejoy, who might be just the muse he needs. As Dickens’ deadlines close in, Eleanor propels him on a Scrooge-like journey that tests everything he believes about generosity, friendship, ambition, and love. The story he writes will change Christmas forever.
Discussion: I’ve blogged before (see link) about The Man Who Invented Christmas, by Les Standiford, a non-fiction book which delved into the history of Dickens classic tale, and the inspiration for the plot and characters. Ms. Silva’s book is historical fiction, and common to the genre, she has taken great liberties, first in imagining his muse – a lady he met on the streets of London during his customary night-time wanderings while plotting out his books. Having read several biographies of Dickens life I’m fairly certain no such woman existed, but as he is reputed to have left his wife and ten children for a much younger actress towards the end of his life, perhaps that is where she got the idea? In this book his wife and children depart for Scotland, angry over Dickens decision to pay an impromptu visit to his first love, and he is left alone to ponder his problems. (Serves him right – maybe he was a bit of a player?) Second, we’re a hundred pages in before the woman-of-mystery-muse is introduced, and not one word has yet been written, but as I recall Dickens wrote his novella over the course of six weeks, not two as she says. I guess I like my historical fiction to be somewhat factual. Third, was the inspiration for Scrooge, Dickens himself? The idea is intriguing, and she has a plausible explanation for the age difference, but somehow it just doesn’t translate.
The book jacket describes the author as a writer and screenwriter from Idaho, and she mentions several near misses in selling the script to Hollywood. As this and the Standiford book (a much better book, if a mediocre movie) came out the same year (2017), she decided to adapt it into a novel instead. That must be frustrating for an author – to find out someone else has a similar idea, especially after you’ve poured your heart into it. For a debut novel, it is well-written, in a style somewhat reminiscent of Dickens.
As I’m only half way through, it wouldn’t be fair to critique it too harshly, but it’s light fluffy fare – but then sometimes that’s exactly what you need, especially at Christmas. Save the heavy stuff for the fruitcake. I’m not sure why the book-club chose this, but it’s no fault of the librarians, as they’re limited to the book club kits purchased by someone else. Perhaps it was just a seasonal selection which sounded promising. The chapters are short, the plot thin, and I’m not sure what there would have been to discuss but as the book-club is now virtual, perhaps they just toasted with some hot rum punch and wished everyone a Merry Christmas.
Merry Christmas and God Bless Us Everyone!
(Edited to add – I stayed up late last night and finished it, and the last fifty pages and ending were surprisingly good! – so I would give it a 3 out of 5)
Like many other people, I’m just not in the mood for Christmas this year. Call me Scrooge, call me the Grinch – let’s just fast forward to January.
Many years ago, I read a book called Skipping Christmas, by John Grisham. (goodreads link) It was a departure from his usual legal thrillers and in this short novel, the protagonist, fed up with the fuss and expense and drama of their elaborate and ever-expanding Christmas celebrations, announces to his wife his intention to skip it altogether. Spoiler alert – of course, he didn’t really skip Christmas, they just had a scaled down version of it, a simpler celebration, more in honor of the true meaning of the season.
Many people will be having smaller Christmases this year with just those in their immediate bubble, and some people will be staying home alone. While it’s nice to have a bit of a crowd around at Christmas there’s something to be said for quieter times too. Christmas is often a sad time for those who have lost loved ones or who are alone and lonely, but pretending to be jolly when you’re not, can be exhausting too. If you have to get in the Christmas spirit, because other people are depending on you to be a merry little elf, this song may help, because we all need a little Christmas, even if it’s just in small doses.
I love the lyrics to this song, “Haul out the holly, Put up the tree before my spirit falls again, Fill up the stockings, I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now.”
Feeling better now…perhaps a bit more gleeful?
Part of the problem with getting in the festive mood this year is that so many of our yuletide traditions have been modified or cancelled. Who would have predicted this time last year that we’d be in the middle of a pandemic, and simply singing a Christmas carol would be forbidden – all those droplets spewing forth possible germs – yuck. Other activities have adapted, so in Part Three of The Corona Diaries lets take a look at a few of those old favorites and see what’s changed and what’s stayed the same, or maybe even improved – yea more cookies for me! Fortunately the parts of Christmas I love the most, the lights, the decorating, the music and the food, tend to be COVID-resistant.
The Festive Special:
Swiss Chalet has been offering their Christmas Special for over 30 years now. It usually starts in mid-November as a kick-off to the season, in order to capture those hungry shoppers smart enough to do their shopping early. This Canadian restaurant chain is known for their rotisserie quarter chicken dinners, and for three dollars more the Festive Special gets you a small scoop of (box) stuffing, a thimbleful of cranberry sauce and a gift box of five Lindor/Lindt chocolates.
This years TV commercial features a little girl excited to see Nana and Papa and then a shot of the family dining inside the restaurant, cut to the Door-Dash guy delivering a meal to the grandparents, and then the family zooming with them via an I-Pad on their respective tables. Creative marketing at it’s finest. Ours was take-out this year, and the cranberry sauce was as skimpy as ever, but the chocolates were good. You can’t go wrong with Lindt Chocolates, even if you have to pay for the the free ones.
Musical Interlude – because mid-Nov. is still a bit too early for non-stop Christmas music. Anyone remember this song by the Queen of Soul? (youtube link)
Nov 25 – Santa Claus is Coming To Town:
The Santa Claus parade may be canceled, but Santa’s coming to a neighbourhood near you! While many Santa Claus parades have become stationary drive-through events or are being conducted on football fields sans spectators and broadcast live (the annual Toronto parade), in the smaller cities and towns, the parade may come right to you. I had forgotten all about this, until I heard the sirens and looked out and saw all the little kids in the neighborhood running down to the corner. Kind of negates the idea of not congregating, but Santa can’t cover every street in town. This year’s parade was really scaled down, only one float and two firetrucks, but Santa was on one of them. Go Santa!
The Salvation army buckets are out in full force, but not manned this year, although some had the new tap and pay feature. Other charities have adapted too. Although there were no toy drive drop offs, just cash donations, Christmas for Everyone is still doing food and toy hampers, as the need is greater than ever this year. The Legion and church offered take-out turkey and roast beef dinners as a fundraiser and sold-out in days – because who isn’t sick of cooking?
Christmas Shopping: (or you’re a mean one, Mrs. Grinch)
I remember one year buying presents for 32 people – talk about insanity. Only half of those were for family and the other half, friends or employees. I was a department head and decided I would buy my staff a small gift, personally geared to their interests – I ran myself ragged shopping, and I don’t like Christmas shopping at the best of times. I only did that one year, the next everyone got the same holiday candle and Tim Horton’s gift cards. Work was always so busy that time of year that eventually I learned to shop early in the fall and would not go near the stores at all in December. A hospital can be a sad place at Christmas and I can’t imagine how the staff are coping now, burnt out and exhausted, with all time off cancelled due to lack of staffing.
I didn’t do ANY Christmas shopping this year – a few small gag gifts from the dollar store, but I did not go to any store for anything other than essentials. Being retired now and our stats still good, I thought I had all kinds of time, but I left it too late and by then the numbers were ticking up and they were telling people to stay home. The few things I bought online had to be returned, so I just gave up, as Canada Post couldn’t promise delivery after Dec 3. I don’t like online shopping anyway, preferring to actually see the item first, and on my one return-and-dash trip to the mall, it was so crowded I felt unsafe and left after half an hour. So this Christmas will be money stuffed in an envelope – not even gift cards. I didn’t realize until recently that Visa gift cards expire if you shove them in a drawer and forget about them – yes after a year they start to subtract a monthly fee. There’s nothing wrong with cash, you can take it to the bank and deposit it, and I had cash lying around I hadn’t used from the spring – so now it’s used up! Easy-peasy!
Dec 1 – Mad for Plaid:
My sole purchase for myself, as you need to treat yourself at Christmas too, was these plaid face masks.
I asked a neighbour where she got hers and she said Old Navy and she liked them as most masks were too big for her narrow face and these have side loops you can adjust, so I got a pack of the Christmas plaid ones on sale – $11 for 5. Plaid is festive at Christmas and matches my plaid scarves from those new coats I blogged about last year, now sitting in my closet with no place to go. (link to Joni and the Amazing Technicolor Coats). You might think it’s too much plaid but style icon Kate Middleton wore one, so that’s good enough for me, and I find anything plaid immensely cheering.
Dec 9 – Baking:
Speaking of treats, we all have to eat, so why not treat yourself to Santa’s Favorite Chocolate Cookies (link to blog). I only make these rich decadent cookies once a year at Christmas and normally would make several batches to give away, but this year I don’t have to! I made my first batch in early December – 28 cookies I don’t have to share! Well, I shared some…..but still…more for me! Baking is also a good way to use up all that flour you stockpiled in the spring with the best of bread-baking intentions.
Dec 12 and 15 – Deck the Halls:
I was late putting up the decorations this year, so I didn’t put up as much, either inside or out, as in a few weeks I’ll just have to take them all down again, and that’s always a downer. I’m keeping it simple. A few wreaths outside, no lights, but candles in the windows. I know everyone is going overboard with lights this year but they sold out early and I forgot to ask the electrician when he upgraded the hydro if I could still use the front outdoor socket.
Instead of buying those overpriced pine arrangements I stole this idea from my neighbor, after watching her out my kitchen window one morning, hacking branches off her pine tree with pruning shears. Saves money ($35) and the rustic look is in. I just love the plaid ribbon, and the cattails were from a ditch.
My mother’s evergreen tree willingly donated some branches,
so I did one for her with a few dollar store decorations from previous years.
And then one for my front porch.
Personally I think there should be a law against those blow up decorations – if you’re already feeling deflated this Christmas, a sight like this doesn’t help.
Someone in my neighbourhood has so many of them on their small lot that I lost count after thirty. There should be a bylaw – two per household, and only if you have little children.
My holly bush is keeping it simple too. I planted four of these one year, one male and his harem of three, but two died and the surviving one is really just a Holly Golightly twig. As they’re sandwiched in between a row of lavender and a row of rose bushes (not one of my better landscaping decisions) they never really did well. But one sprig of holly is all you need for atop the store-bought Christmas pudding.
The Sound of Music (check), White Christmas (check), that one with the annoying kid with the BB gun (check) – my mother loves A Christmas Story, it reminds her of growing up in the Depression. I haven’t watched Scrooge or It’s A Wonderful Life, but they’re always on Christmas Eve day.
I started listening early, as motivation to walk – fresh air and music. As well as the usual Christmas favorites, I’m enjoying some of the old Christmas hymns I remember from Christmas Eve services. (link to blog – Joy to the World – Christmas Playlist) There won’t be any midnight mass here this year, certainly no choir, just an early service you have to register for online, and a video broadcast link later. We usually tune into the church channel with the Basilica from Washington DC, if they are allowed to have it this year?
I always enjoyed this Christmas reggae song by Boney M – very uplifting.
The Reason for the Season:
If you’re feeling frazzled, like the jolly guy here, clinging to the tree, remember this too shall pass, and remember the reason for the season. Keep those traditions you can and those that have meaning for you and let the others go for this year. Peace and goodwill to all. Wishing everyone a Merry Little Christmas!
PS. Will you be staying home for Christmas? Are there any Christmas traditions you are especially missing? Any new ones you have started?
I’ve written before about A Christmas Carol being one of my favorite books, and in part one – A Christmas Carol with Recipes, I review the Book to Table classic edition of this perennial favorite. I had expected the recipes in that book to be related to what they might have eaten in Dickens time (1843) instead of the usual modern dishes, but after staring at all those mouth-watering photos I’m hungry, so in part two, let’s discuss the food in Dickens famous novel – food, glorious food!
There are many glorious descriptions of food in A Christmas Carol – who doesn’t remember the famous goose or the pudding singing in the copper?
The first mention comes in the introductory scene where Scrooge is nursing a head cold beside his meagre fire.
I’ve often wondered about the gruel. Yes, I know it’s that bland watery substance that Oliver Twist got in trouble over, asking for more, but what exactly is it and what does it taste like? According to the dictionary, gruel is “a thin liquid food of oatmeal or other meal boiled in milk or water.” It was a staple for the poor in the past, peasant food for the masses. According to Wikipedia (link) it was on the supper menu for the third class passengers on the eve of the Titanic sinking. (How about that for your last meal?) No more for me thanks, I’d rather have Quaker Oatmeal, thick like glue with raisins and brown sugar, and maybe a hot toddy for my next head cold, or one of those hot lemon drinks designed to knock you out.
The first major description of food and drink comes in the scene with the Ghost of Christmas Past, at Old Fezziwig’s work party and will have your toe tapping and your mouth drooling over the festive spread.
Negus is a beverage made of wine, often port, mixed with hot water, oranges or lemons, spices and sugar – an old-fashioned name for mulled wine. Yes, to that and to the cake and mince-pies too. Mince pie is another tradition which many people don’t care for anymore, along with fruitcake, but I love them both. Port is a type of fortified red wine, often blended with a spirit such as brandy, making it stronger and more shelf-stable. My father used to have a class of port with a piece of fruitcake on Christmas eve, while watching midnight mass, and sometimes I would join him, but it’s a strong drink which would send me straight to bed. A tradition inherited from his Irish ancestors, that was the only time of year the bottle was brought out, so a bottle could last for years.
You have to admire generous old Fezziwig for having an open bar for his poor overworked underpaid employees. I like to re-read this passage as I don’t recall ever having such fun at an office party myself.
The next major food section takes place with the appearance of the Ghost of Christmas Present, the big jolly guy with the cornucopia of food spread out at his feet.
I’ve always wanted to make a twelfth night cake, twelfth night being Jan 5. An old British tradition, it’s a rich fruitcake with royal icing into which was baked a pea or a bean or in modern days a trinket. Whoever gets the piece with the lucky charm is crowned King or Queen for the Day. I found a package one Christmas in one of those overpriced boutique stores – basically it contained a dry cake mix and a gold foil- covered coin – a gimmick for $20 and probably not worth a trip to the dentist over a broken tooth, especially in these times of COVID precautions, but it’s an intriguing idea – perhaps more suitable for a New Year’s dinner some other year.
While Scrooge is out wandering the streets, he comes upon a poulterers, home to the prize turkey, and a fruiterers shop.
Fruit and nuts were a rarity in Dickens’ time, in much the same way as older folks remember getting an orange only at Christmas. When I was growing up on the farm, after the dishes were done (by hand, no dishwasher with well water) and the table cleared, a bowl of fruit and a bowl of mixed nuts was set out to be nibbled at leisure, for no one was truly hungry after the main feast. The nuts were in their shells (hazelnuts, walnuts) and they required work to get at the meat. We’ve lost this old tradition, but I still have the silver nutcrackers and the slender picks. The Cratchits put a shovelful of chestnuts on the fire after their feast, but I’ve never tried roasted chestnuts before, although I’ve seen them in the grocery store this time of year. Which brings us to the grocer’s…
Not sure I would rhapsodize about grocery shopping like this, as it’s still my least favorite essential activity, but I am grateful for the ability to buy food.
I particularly like his descriptions of the good cheer expressed by the shoppers – I’m not sure that is still applicable today, when people pummel poor sales clerks over having to wear a mask or fight over the last Sony Playstation on the shelf.
Scrooge pays particular attention to the dinners of the poor, for not having an oven of their own their meals would have to be conveyed to the Bakers to be cooked, and then fetched back home again.
There was much hunger and poverty in Dickens time, with poor houses and work houses being common experiences for many. The ghost warns of the dangers of Want and Ignorance in the two malnourished youths at his feet.
It’s heart-breaking to see those long line-ups of cars at the food banks during the pandemic, many of whom have lost their jobs and have never had to use such a service before.
The Cratchits were a “working poor” family, and of course Dickens most famous food scene is that of their Christmas dinner.
It was tradition then to have a goose for the feast, and my parents, being rural people recall having goose for Christmas dinner in their younger years. Most farms had a goose on the premises which could be sacrificed for the cause, whereas a turkey was a rarer bird.
Although turkeys are mentioned in the book – the prize turkey hanging there still which the remarkable boy goes forth to purchase for Scrooge – they did not become the more popular Christmas fare until later.
And oh the pudding, born aloft in a blaze of holly and fussed over as to the quantity of flour, and Bob Cratchits compliments to the chef for pulling off such a grand feast on such a small budget. This is one tradition I do uphold but this year my plum pudding will come in a box complete with prepared sauce, although normally I would make the sauce.
And at the end of the book, a reformed Scrooge extends an invitation to his lowly clerk, Bob Cratchit, to share in a Christmas bowl of Smoking Bishop punch.
Smoking Bishop was another type of mulled wassail drink, with the lemon or orange spiked with cloves and roasted over a fire before being added to a mixture of port wine and spices. (Wikipedia link)
As Tiny Tim proclaims at the end, “God bless us every one!”
Wherever you are and whatever you are eating this holiday season remember to give blessings for the food on the table and the company around it. And if you happen to be home alone, as the young Scrooge was reading by the fire, then a book such as a Christmas Carol is always good company.
PS. Portions of this were adapted from A Christmas Carol as Applied to Modern Life – Dec 2018.
A Christmas Carol is one of my favorite books, and I make time to re-read it every December. In fact I’ve read it so many times I have entire sections memorized. No matter how Scrooge-like I’m feeling (especially so this year), it never fails to get me in the mood for Christmas. I came across this beautiful hardcopy on the bookoutlet site recently, one of the Book to Table classic series, and decided I needed a new edition – because who doesn’t like a new cookbook too!
Publisher’s Blurb: A deluxe, full-color hardback edition of the perennial Christmas classic featuring a selection of recipes for your holiday table from Giada de Laurentiis, Ina Garten, Martha Stewart, and Trisha Yearwood!
Have your book and eat it, too, with this clever edition of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol featuring delicious recipes from celebrity chefs. Plan your perfect Christmas feast with a carefully curated menu of holiday dishes, from succulent baked ham to smashed root vegetables. And top it all off with fruitcake cookies and pecan pie. Celebrate the holiday with a good meal and a good book!
Book includes full, unabridged text of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, interspersed with recipes, food photography, and special food artwork.
My Review: It is a lovely book, there’s no doubt about it, but I must admit I was a bit disappointed in the recipes. I’m not sure what I was expecting, perhaps something from the Dickens era? What’s in a bowl of Smokin’ Bishop punch? (see Part Two) Or at least a recipe for plum pudding?
Instead, it’s the standard holiday fare, turkey, baked ham, mashed potatoes, with an assortment of the traditional side dishes, cranberry sauce, candied carrots, buttermilk biscuits, pecan pie. The recipes for spinach salad and asparagus with hollandaise sauce look good, but that’s spring-time food in my opinion! There are 13 recipes in all, grouped according to starters, entrees, side dishes, and desserts.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with trying something new, and these recipes by Martha & company look delicious, but this is the time of year we crave tradition, even more so this year, and there’s comfort and joy in having the same menu year after year. Besides, every family has their own version of these old favorites, a time-honored way of preparing the potatoes or the stuffing. In my dad’s big Irish family, the dressing/stuffing was made outside the bird, in pans so there would be enough to go around and the recipe is pretty basic – sauteed onions in butter poured over stale broken-up bread crumbs and sprinkled liberally with savory, and a pinch of thyme and sage, cooked in the oven until soggy and then re-heated later. We still make it that way, but in a white Corning-ware casserole dish. From my maternal grandma, we inherited mushy peas – smashed peas with butter. No green bean or sweet potato casseroles here in my Canadian family, nor pecan pie – that’s southern fare. Our other vegetable is squash – acorn only. And although the buttermilk biscuits in the book look good, we must have the same soft white dinner rolls bought from the same bakery, but only for the holidays. (I wonder what we’ll do if they ever go out of business.)
Dessert is plum pudding served with rum caramel sauce, and occasionally mince or apple pie. When I was growing up, dessert was just sliced fruit cake and cookies, served on a gold glass cake platter and a big bowl of fruit jello, red with bananas and grapes and topped with whipped cream – because everyone was just too full and what kid lingered at the dinner table when there were new toys to be played with! Back then the turkey was a twenty pounder, straight out of Norman Rockwell, as there would be turkey pies and stew later. My mother would get up at 5 am to put it in the oven as we would eat at 1 pm after church. Now with a smaller number, a double turkey breast is better and far less messy, while still leaving plenty of leftovers of white meat, which is all we like anyway.
Since I won’t be making a fruitcake this year, I might try the fruitcake cookies, but I don’t need 5 dozen.
and the apple-cranberry crisp might be nice on a cold January day.
Overall, it’s a visually appealing book, and if you don’t already own a copy, it’s well worth the discounted price ($9 vs $34 Cdn), plus it would make a nice Christmas present for someone who likes to cook.
PS. What are some of your traditional Christmas recipes?
PS. Charles Dickens was a master of description – so if you’re in the mood for some more food, hop on over to part two – Food Glorious Food – for a sample of his fare.
It’s that time of year when many of us are feeling broke. Maybe we’ve spent too much on Christmas once again but the damage is done, so if you’re looking for a few free seasonal activities, or ones which require very little money, then read on.
Take in a small town Santa Claus parade, preferably one at night with lots of lights.
I love being able to walk down to the corner of my subdivision and see our little parade. It gives you a chance to see with all the neighbors who have been hibernating inside this time of year, and later you can visit the town square for free hot chocolate and cookies. There are the same floats year after year but who cares, it’s tradition, plus Santa is the main attraction. Sure beats the city parade where you have to leave so early to get a parking spot and then stand in the cold for hours staking out your curbside space.
Splurge on a fancy specialty coffee at the mall. $5 for a Cup of Christmas Cheer, complete with burnt brown sugar topping. What a marketing tool – sign me up.
Verdict – a bit too sweet, but the perfect antidote to shop til you drop. Personally, I avoid the mall but some people enjoy all the last minute hustle and bustle and need the extra calories to brave the crowds.
Take in A Free Celebration of Lights Bus Tour: The city provides special transit buses for half hour tours of the lights, all for the price of a donated can of goods.
If you don’t have a Celebration of Lights in your area, then take a walk around your neighborhood and enjoy the twinkling displays.
Avert your eyes when you come to The Inflatable Village, (lost count after thirty), because it shines brighter than Rudolph’s nose.
Go skating. Many local arenas sponsor free family hours once the kids are out of school.
Go Caroling in the Snow. Many years ago, I had a group of grade school carolers at my front door – what fun they were having! Our local paper still publishes a free carol song book, but I wonder what happens to the stacks of free copies in the grocery store now that so many people don’t read a print newspaper anymore.
No carolers in your group, then attend a church Christmas cantata or carol sing.
I’m a big fan of those old church hymns from years ago, although the last time I attended church there was folk music? Christmas Eve mass belongs to Hark the Harold Angels Sing and The First Noel, and always Joy to the World at the end. Not a church goer, dust off your old albums in the basement and crank up the vintage turntable.
Set up your traditional nativity scene, the reason for the season if you are Christian. My dad made this one back in 1950 from old barn board, long before barn board was fashionable, and my mother bought the figurines at Kresge’s dime store. The star he made in grade school always sits atop the snow on the roof.
Sit in your living room and stare at your tree, or twinkly lights if you don’t have a tree, or light some candles.
Open a box of Pot of Gold chocolates ($3.99 on sale), and indulge in your favorites.
Watch your favorite classic Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, The Sound of Music, A Christmas Carol or all of them.
Or make reading the book an annual tradition.
Enjoy a wee small glass of port and a slice of Christmas cake late on Christmas Eve (my Irish family tradition), watch midnight mass on TV and wait for Santa to come. Track his progress on the eleven o’clock news. Merry Christmas to one and all!
One of my favorite Christmas traditions is making several batches of no-bake chocolate/oatmeal/peanut butter cookies a week or two before Christmas and distributed them to all the hungry little elves who are slaving away trying to make Christmas good for everyone. They are always a crowd-pleaser at pot-lucks too. I don’t know what they are called, but I inherited the recipe from a sister-in-law back in the eighties so we refer to them as her cookies, but you could call them Santa’s favorites.
I don’t make them any other time of year, just at Christmas, although with the chocolate they would be suitable for Valentine’s Day too. It’s hard to justify the calories, but they do contain some good-for-you ingredients, like oatmeal (for lowering cholesterol), milk (source of calcium), peanut butter (for protein) and cocoa (source of antioxidants), even if there is a fair bit of sugar in the recipe. I find good old-fashioned grocery store Fry’s cocoa works best, as the one year I tried a fancy imported French brand, they were way too chocolaty, so I needed to add less. (Note: some versions of this recipe only use 1/4 cup cocoa but I’ve always used 1/3 cup of Fry’s, so you could adjust to your taste if you have a richer cocoa.)
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup Peanut Butter
2 cups white sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
1/2 cup milk
3 cups oatmeal (rolled minute oats)
2 tsp (10ml) vanilla
Mix sugar and cocoa in a pan. Add butter and milk and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. When it starts to boil, boil 1 to 1 1/2 minutes exactly. This is a full boil, not just a few bubbles. Do not under boil as the mixture will not set properly after you add the other ingredients.
As the chocolate mixture has to be boiled in a pan on the stove, these cookies are not suitable for kids to make. Santa’s little helpers could help measure the ingredients though.
Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, peanut butter and rolled oats in that order. I use Crunchy peanut butter as that’s what I buy, but Smooth is okay too.
Once you have added the peanut butter to the boiling chocolate mixture and whisked it through, and then added the oatmeal, you have to work quickly to scoop out the mixture before it sets. Drop by teaspoon onto wax paper or non-stick baking pans. Let cool thoroughly. Makes 24 cookies. Keep them in an airtight container. If they dry out too much after a few days, you can zap them in the microwave for ten seconds to make them moist again.
Some batches turn out drier than others, depending if I have let it boil too long, but it doesn’t affect the overall taste. It’s all good. They can be stored at room temperature or in the fridge, or frozen for later.
I usually keep a batch in the freezer and defrost when needed, even it it’s just one cookie as a treat with a cup of tea before bed. Heating them up in the microwave for about ten seconds makes them even better as there’s nothing like a warm chocolate cookie. Don’t forget to leave some out for Santa!
A Christmas Carol is one of my favorite books of all time. I love it for it’s perfect plot, it’s memorable characters and it’s simple message of hope and redemption. If you want to know the story behind the writing of this Christmas classic then this months Literary Salon selection may be for you.
I first wrote about Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol in a Dec 2017 blog where there is a link to the 68 page handwritten manuscript on view each year at the Morgan Library in New York. It’s interesting to see how many revisions he made to the original. Can you imagine Tiny Tim being called Tiny Fred? This year it is open to the page with the famous description of the foggy London street and the introduction of Scrooge in his counting-house.
Last year I blogged about A Christmas Carol as Applied to Modern Life as it struck me how many of the descriptions and themes are still applicable today.
But back to how the story came about, for don’t we always want to know where other writers get their muse.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The ultimate Christmas gift for the Dickens fan, this little book makes a great stocking stuffer!
The Publisher’s Blurb:
As uplifting as the tale of Scrooge itself, this is the story of how one writer and one book revived the signal holiday of the Western world. Just before Christmas in 1843, a debt-ridden and dispirited Charles Dickens wrote a small book he hoped would keep his creditors at bay. His publisher turned it down, so Dickens used what little money he had to put out A Christmas Carol himself. He worried it might be the end of his career as a novelist. The book immediately caused a sensation. And it breathed new life into a holiday that had fallen into disfavor, undermined by lingering Puritanism and the cold modernity of the Industrial Revolution. It was a harsh and dreary age, in desperate need of spiritual renewal, ready to embrace a book that ended with blessings for one and all. With warmth, wit, and an infusion of Christmas cheer, Les Standiford whisks us back to Victorian England, its most beloved storyteller, and the birth of the Christmas we know best. The Man Who Invented Christmas is a rich and satisfying read for Scrooges and sentimentalists alike.
Why I Liked It:
I first read Dickens in the summer of 67 when the musical Oliver came out, and believe me, at the age of eleven it was a struggle. He was so wordy if I hadn’t already known the plot from the movie it’s unlikely I would ever have attempted it, but I was madly in love with my first crush, the Artful Dodger (as played by Jack Wild who sadly later died from throat cancer) and so I persisted. I fared better in high school when I enjoyed reading A Tale of Two Cities for a book report. A Christmas Carol is a mere novella in comparison, at barely a hundred pages. Of course it helps that we have seen movie versions and theatrical performances of it too. It’s such an accepted part of the Christmas culture that we seldom think about what inspired it?
The Man Who Invented Christmas delves into how the book came to be written, including even the smallest of details like the name Ebenezer Scrooge. As well, Dickens was writing from his childhood experience of poverty as his father was frequently in debtor’s prison and he was made to work in a blacking factory at a young age to support the family. The book also provides some background context to the times, such as Tiny Tim likely suffered from rickets, a common medical condition in industrial London where smog frequently blocked sunlight and vitamins had yet to be invented. While I was familiar with much of the discussion in this book, having read Jane Smiley’s excellent (link) biography of Charles Dickens, two things stood out.
The first is the absolute genius of the plot. I can picture Dickens walking the foggy streets of London, late at night, planning it all out. Normally he would write and publish in installments, (a feat in itself leaving no room for revision), but this was to be a complete book, and for something he dashed off in a mere six weeks, writing in a manic frenzy until it was just perfect, it is a work of pure genius.
The second thing is Dickens knew when he was writing it, that it was good and possibly had the makings of greatness, although he could not have foreseen it’s enduring power, and as he mentioned in several of his letters he was quite obsessed with the process. What a wonderfully satisfying thing to be pleased with what you have written, and then to find out other people like it too. Isn’t that something we all aspire too? The reviews were all positive, glowing in fact. It never went out of print.
Les Standiford’s book is a fascinating peek behind the scenes into the mind of a creative genius and well worth a read, especially for fans of Dickens.
Postscript: Skip the movie by the same name and read the book instead. What the Dickens kind of miscasting was that? Dan Stevens will be forever known as Mathew Crawley on Downton Abbey. Any suggestions for who could play Dickens well?
If you want a simple but delicious desert to take to a holiday buffet or help ring in the New Year, then a Bacardi rum cake is a great choice. This cake is really something to celebrate, but for any non-drinkers you can burn off most of the alcohol in the glaze if you wish. The recipe originated in the 1970’s but I saw a revised version in one of The Pioneer Woman cookbooks, which inspired me to try it out last year. Although I remember it as a popular magazine advertisement from the Bacardi Rum Company years ago, I did not cook or even bake back then. My only experience with a booze-laden dessert was during a late-night visit to a high school friend’s house over Christmas break. She was of Italian descent and served us some kind of soggy boozy cake which was an Italian tradition. After an evening of bar-hopping that was probably the last thing we needed, but we had strong espresso with it, as we sat around their ornate dining room table at 1 am laughing and catching up and trying not to wake her sleeping parents. (I don’t remember parents staying up worrying back then when their kids went out, certainly mine never did, but those were more innocent times when bad things didn’t seem to happen as often as they do now. My parents never even locked their doors in the country and I often had to step over the sleeping dog when I got home). I’m not sure what kind of fancy liquor was in that cake but it was very strong, so the memory has stayed with me…..plus the fact that I occasionally drive past her house, but they have long since moved and I lost touch. This recipe is not as strong, or as soggy but has just the right amount of rum flavor. It keeps well too, although I stored mine in the fridge in a covered container. It was just as moist a week later when there were only one or two pieces left and the New Year’s resolutions had kicked in.
It can be impossible to find a cake mix with pudding anymore, so newer versions of this recipe call for using one 3 oz package of vanilla pudding mix and a regular yellow cake mix.
Although the original recipe does not call for drizzling the glaze over both the top and bottom of the cake, I did both, as I wanted it nice and flavorful. You do want it to soak in well so make lots of holes and let it sit for awhile before you remove it from the pan and repeat with the top.
I used a long two pronged fork to make the holes. I could not find my Bundt cake pan (did I still own a Bundt pan?) so I just used a plain round Angel Food cake tin. I also used butter instead of oil, a personal preference, and half brown sugar and half regular sugar for the glaze. (Someday I may learn to follow a recipe exactly!) The Pioneer Woman recipe called for 1/2 cup brown sugar mixed with 1/2 cup chopped nuts and sprinkled in the bottom of the pan, so I tried that this year and prefer the plain nuts version as it was too sweet and made the topping hard so that when I tried to poke holes in it with a nut pick, it started to crack, so I ended up just drizzling the remainder of the glaze over the top. Live and learn….a domestic goddess, I am not.
I added the rum while it was still boiling to burn off most of the alcohol. Of course you don’t have to use Bacardi brand rum…..any rum will do, but I do think a dark rum makes a nicer sauce. When I went out for a walk and came back in, the kitchen still smelled rummy. The batter tasted pretty rummy too, if you are the daring type who likes to taste raw batter. I stored the cake in a covered container in the fridge and it kept well. If it gets a bit dried out, microwaving it for about 15 seconds, makes it even better. In fact, served warm with coffee, it’s a nice way to ring in the New Year with family and friends.
Postscript: see last years blog Here We Come A’ Wassailing for more New Years entertaining ideas.
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol remains one of my favorite books and I try and read it at least once during the Christmas season. It is a short book you can finish in a couple of nights, with a cup of tea when you are worn out from shopping, and it always reminds me of the true spirit of the season. (see last years blog for the inspiration behind the book). Although it was first published, with great fanfare, in 1843, more than 170 years ago, I was struck by how relevant the story is and how timeless the descriptions are even today in our modern world. Dickens was always a wordy fellow…but ah…the food, the fun, the family dynamics…
Let’s begin, as the book does, with the weather….
“Once upon a time — of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve — old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house. It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: and he could hear the people in the court outside, go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them. The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already — it had not been light all day” and a few pages later, “Foggier yet, and colder! Piercing, searching, biting cold.”
As I write this, it is just the sort of foggy night that Dickens describes, a night which calls for Rudolph to be on standby. December is a damp bone chilling cold as opposed to January which is just bitter cold. The book of course is set in England where such damp chilly weather is common but it is as good a description as any for setting out the gloomy atmosphere of the first chapter, Marley’s Ghost.
Of course Scrooge’s miserly treatment of his clerk Bob Cratchit is central to the story, but who among us hasn’t had a Scrooge for a boss, without the heartwarming ending. And poor Martha late on Christmas Day again.
“Why, bless your heart alive, my dear, how late you are!” said Mrs. Cratchit, kissing her a dozen times, and taking off her shawl and bonnet for her with officious zeal. `We’d a deal of work to finish up last night,’ replied the girl,’ and had to clear away this morning, mother.’
And a few pages later, ‘Martha, who was a poor apprentice at a milliner’s, then told them what kind of work she had to do, and how many hours she worked at a stretch, and how she meant to lie abed to-morrow morning for a good long rest; to-morrow being a holiday she passed at home.’
If you haven’t arrived home late on Christmas Eve, exhausted from the demands of too much last minute work (much of it unnecessary and poorly planned – folks, Christmas comes the same day every year, no need to be standing in a lineup at 6 pm on Christmas Eve buying a present or box of chocolates), in order to have one day off, two if you are fortunate like Martha – then count yourself lucky. I try not to go near the stores in December, certainly never the week before Christmas, as I pity the poor retail workers. No matter what kind of work you do, there may be many days in the countdown to Christmas where you might wish to borrow that torch the Spirit of Christmas Present sprinkled in order to re-establish goodwill.
‘And it was a very uncommon kind of torch, for once or twice when there were angry words between some dinner-carriers who had jostled each other, he shed a few drops of water on them from it, and their good humour was restored directly. For they said, it was a shame to quarrel upon Christmas Day. And so it was. God love it, so it was.’
Count yourself even luckier if your work doesn’t follow you home…..I recall one Christmas night spend huddled in the back bedroom with all the coats piled on the bed, the only quiet place in the house, trying to solve a work problem on the phone and thus save myself a drive over dark snowy roads. How many of us are often simply too exhausted to enjoy Christmas, although too little sleep never seems to affect the children, who just get more and more wound up from the excitement of it all! Of course, work can be a refugee if you are experiencing an overdose of family dynamics – one year I went in for a few hours on Boxing Day just to get away from all the drama, (popping out to the Boxing Day sales works too, or taking the dog for a walk).
But then we often have to pay for our merry-making with a backlog of work, as did poor Bob Cratchit, being caught late for work the next day, a full eighteen and a half minutes behind his time.
`It’s only once a year, sir,’ pleaded Bob, appearing from the Tank. `It shall not be repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday, sir.’
Although I doubt bosses today would be inclined to invite you out for a bowl of Smoking Bishop, which brings us to the Christmas work party.
The Office Party
Was there ever a better office party than the one old Fezziwig put on for his staff, including his two young apprentices Scrooge and Wilkins, and how they admired him for it.
‘Clear away…..the floor was swept and watered, the lamps were trimmed, fuel was heaped upon the fire; and the warehouse was as snug, and warm, and dry, and bright a ball-room, as you would desire to see upon a winter’s night.
In came a fiddler with a music-book…..and made an orchestra of it…..In came Mrs Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile. In came the three Miss Fezziwigs, beaming and lovable. In came the six young followers whose hearts they broke. In came all the young men and women employed in the business. In came the housemaid, with her cousin, the baker. In came the cook, with her brother’s particular friend, the milkman. In came the boy from over the way, who was suspected of not having board enough from his master; trying to hide himself behind the girl from next door but one, who was proved to have had her ears pulled by her mistress. In they all came, one after another; some shyly, some boldly, some gracefully, some awkwardly, some pushing, some pulling; in they all came, anyhow and everyhow. Away they all went, twenty couples at once; hands half round and back again the other way; down the middle and up again; round and round in various stages of affectionate grouping; old top couple always turning up in the wrong place; new top couple starting off again, as soon as they got there; all top couples at last, and not a bottom one to help them. When this result was brought about, old Fezziwig, clapping his hands to stop the dance, cried out,’ Well done.’
There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer. But the great effect of the evening came after the Roast and Boiled, when the fiddler struck up Sir Roger de Coverley. Then old Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mrs Fezziwig. Top couple, too; with a good stiff piece of work cut out for them; three or four and twenty pair of partners; people who were not to be trifled with; people who would dance, and had no notion of walking.
When the clock struck eleven, this domestic ball broke up. Mr and Mrs Fezziwig took their stations, one on either side of the door, and shaking hands with every person individually as he or she went out, wished him or her a Merry Christmas. When everybody had retired but the two prentices, they did the same to them; and thus the cheerful voices died away, and the lads were left to their beds; which were under a counter in the back-shop.’
We will leave the lads signing the praises of their boss who had spent but a few pounds of his money but who ‘has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count them up: what then. The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.’
Well, I can’t say that I’ve ever had that good a time at a work Christmas party, which was likely to have been a more sedate affair, usually dinner at a fancy restaurant, but maybe the key here is “plenty of beer” and “negus” (a beverage made of wine and hot water, with sugar, nutmeg and lemon). From my recollection, there was sometimes more fun to be had in getting ready for an evening out than in the event itself, which brings us to the clothes….
Even the poorest church mouse likes to dress up at Christmas. Who can forget,
‘Mrs Cratchit, dressed out but poorly in a twice-turned gown, but brave in ribbons, which are cheap and make a goodly show for sixpence; and she laid the cloth, assisted by Belinda Cratchit, second of her daughters, also brave in ribbons;‘
and those girls sallying forth for a party,
‘and there a group of handsome girls, all hooded and fur-booted, and all chattering at once, tripped lightly off to some near neighbour’s house; where, woe upon the single man who saw them enter — artful witches, well they knew it — in a glow.’
What man hasn’t at some point been bewitched by a woman in a velvet dress and a bit of glitter? I even remember wearing velvet dresses and fur trimmed coats and hats to attend Christmas Eve services…..now at my age I might don a casual pair of velveteen pants and a dressy top to stay home, but I know the fashion magazines are still full of dressy evening wear.
While the Cratchit’s dinner of goose and stuffing is legendary, we seldom dine on goose anymore, but we still like to comment about how this year’s turkey rates.
‘Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course — and in truth it was something very like it in that house. Mrs Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah.
There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn’t ate it all at last. Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows.
And then there is the famous turkey scene where Scrooge awakes on Christmas morning and yells down to the boy in the street.
‘ Do you know whether they’ve sold the prize Turkey that was hanging up there — Not the little prize Turkey: the big one.’
`I’ll send it to Bob Cratchit’s.’ whispered Scrooge, rubbing his hands, and splitting with a laugh. `He shan’t know who sends it. It’s twice the size of Tiny Tim. ‘
Dickens descriptions of the marketplace are also marvelous to behold, as fruit was a rarer commodity than it is today, with oranges being an annual Christmas treat.
The poulterers’ shops were still half open, and the fruiterers’ were radiant in their glory. There were great, round, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts……there were pears and apples, clustered high in blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers’ benevolence to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people’s mouths might water gratis as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown…..there were Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner….
The Grocers, oh the Grocers, nearly closed, with perhaps two shutters down, or one; but through those gaps such glimpses……the blended scents of tea and coffee were so grateful to the nose, or even that the raisins were so plentiful and rare, the almonds so extremely white, the sticks of cinnamon so long and straight, the other spices so delicious, the candied fruits so caked and spotted with molten sugar as to make the coldest lookers-on feel faint and subsequently bilious. Nor was it that the figs were moist and pulpy, or that the French plums blushed in modest tartness from their highly-decorated boxes, or that everything was good to eat and in its Christmas dress; but the customers were all so hurried and so eager in the hopeful promise of the day, that they tumbled up against each other at the door, crashing their wicker baskets wildly, and left their purchases upon the counter, and came running back to fetch them, and committed hundreds of the like mistakes, in the best humour possible;’
Then there is the bounty at the foot of the Ghost of Christmas Present when he makes his first appearance:
‘Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam.’
I always thought it would be interesting to make a twelfth-night cake, which brings us to dessert.
Who can forget that famous pudding…
‘But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs Cratchit left the room alone — too nervous to bear witnesses — to take the pudding up and bring it in.
Hallo. A great deal of steam. The pudding was out of the copper…..In half a minute Mrs Cratchit entered — flushed, but smiling proudly — with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.
Oh, a wonderful pudding. Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs Cratchit since their marriage. Mrs Cratchit said that now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had had her doubts about the quantity of flour. Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have been flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit would have blushed to hint at such a thing.’
While Christmas pudding may not be as popular as it once was, it is still a part of many Christmas traditions, in my case a store-bought version from The British Shop, although the rum sauce is homemade.
While the Cratchits may have toasted their Christmas punch from a meager collection of glassware and tumblers, Scrooge’s nephew Fred laid out a more prosperous spread. Who can remember the anxiety of cooking their first Christmas dinner,
‘They were looking at the table (which was spread out in great array); for these young housekeepers are always nervous on such points, and like to see that everything is right.’
and the satisfaction of pulling it off successfully.
`”Here, he takes it into his head to dislike us, and he won’t come and dine with us. What’s the consequence. He don’t lose much of a dinner.’
`Indeed, I think he loses a very good dinner,’ interrupted Scrooge’s niece. Everybody else said the same, and they must be allowed to have been competent judges, because they had just had dinner; and, with the dessert upon the table, were clustered round the fire, by lamplight.
`Well. I’m very glad to hear it,’ said Scrooge’s nephew, `because I haven’t great faith in these young housekeepers. What do you say, Topper.’
Topper had clearly got his eye upon one of Scrooge’s niece’s sisters, for he answered that a bachelor was a wretched outcast, who had no right to express an opinion on the subject. Whereat Scrooge’s niece’s sister — the plump one with the lace tucker: not the one with the roses — blushed.’
‘It was his own room. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull petrification of a hearth had never known in Scrooge’s time, or Marley’s, or for many and many a winter season gone.’
Proof that a little decorating can make any room more cheerful, and don’t we all love to decorate when there are so many lovely new things to be found each year.
While there weren’t many presents exchanged in 1843, there is one scene in the book where they are mentioned,
‘But now a knocking at the door was heard, and such a rush immediately ensued that she with laughing face and plundered dress was borne towards it the centre of a flushed and boisterous group, just in time to greet the father, who came home attended by a man laden with Christmas toys and presents. Then the shouting and the struggling, and the onslaught that was made on the defenceless porter. The scaling him with chairs for ladders to dive into his pockets, despoil him of brown-paper parcels, hold on tight by his cravat, hug him round his neck, pommel his back, and kick his legs in irrepressible affection. The shouts of wonder and delight with which the development of every package was received. The terrible announcement that the baby had been taken in the act of putting a doll’s frying-pan into his mouth, and was more than suspected of having swallowed a fictitious turkey, glued on a wooden platter. The immense relief of finding this a false alarm. The joy, and gratitude, and ecstasy. They are all indescribable alike. It is enough that by degrees the children and their emotions got out of the parlour, and by one stair at a time, up to the top of the house; where they went to bed, and so subsided.’
There is music throughout the book, from the Fezziwig’s ball, to Tiny Tim’s plaintive fireside song, to nephew Fred’s party, as well as scenes of the miners and sailors singing on Christmas Eve with a pint in hand. And it’s nice to know that God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman is still being heard today.
‘The owner of one scant young nose, gnawed and mumbled by the hungry cold as bones are gnawed by dogs, stooped down at Scrooge’s keyhole to regale him with a Christmas carol: but at the first sound of
`God bless you, merry gentleman! May nothing you dismay!’
Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action, that the singer fled in terror.’
The Church Service
‘And how did little Tim behave”asked Mrs Cratchit…..”As good as gold,’ said Bob,’ and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.’
While attendance at church may be dwindling, many people still make the effort to attend Christmas Eve services or watch midnight mass at the Vatican on TV.
The Hustle and Bustle
‘He went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure.’
Some people actually enjoy the hustle and bustle of the days leading up to Christmas, while others prefer to avoid it altogether…..but the reformed Scrooge was like a child reveling in all the festivities for the first time.
The Company Coming
“By this time it was getting dark, and snowing pretty heavily; and as Scrooge and the Spirit went along the streets, the brightness of the roaring fires in kitchens, parlours, and all sorts of rooms, was wonderful. Here, the flickering of the blaze showed preparations for a cozy dinner, with hot plates baking through and through before the fire, and deep red curtains, ready to be drawn to shut out cold and darkness. There all the children of the house were running out into the snow to meet their married sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles, aunts, and be the first to greet them. Here again were shadows on the window-blind of guests assembling; …..But, if you had judged from the numbers of people on their way to friendly gatherings, you might have thought that no one was at home to give them welcome when they got there, instead of every house expecting company, and piling up its fires half-chimney high.’
Christmas Day doesn’t officially start until your company has arrived, which is always a relief if the weather has been snowy and the roads bad.
Nothing beats the description of nephew Fred’s party for sheer fun and games.
‘But they didn’t devote the whole evening to music. After a while they played at forfeits; for it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself. Stop. There was first a game at blind-man’s buff. Of course there was. And I no more believe Topper was really blind than I believe he had eyes in his boots. My opinion is, that it was a done thing between him and Scrooge’s nephew; and that the Ghost of Christmas Present knew it. The way he went after that plump sister in the lace tucker was an outrage on the credulity of human nature.’
Scrooge himself remarks, in the final chapter, that it was a wonderful party,
`It’s I. Your uncle Scrooge. I have come to dinner. Will you let me in, Fred.’ Let him in. It is a mercy he didn’t shake his arm off. He was at home in five minutes. Nothing could be heartier. His niece looked just the same. So did Topper when he came. So did the plump sister when she came. So did every one when they came. Wonderful party, wonderful games, wonderful unanimity, wonderful happiness.‘
The Family Dynamics
As Tolstoy remarked, “All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in it’s own way.” Although Dickens family appeared to be a large and happy one (he had ten children), his own childhood was not a carefree one, with a stint in a black-making factory and a father in debtors prison, and in his later years he was separated from his wife due to rumors of an affair with a young actress, plus he was frequently debt-ridden – it was a far from perfect life. Still, A Christmas Carol was written early in his career and you don’t want to spoil a perfectly happy book with tales of dysfunctional families, no matter how often they may exist in real life. If you have a happy fun-filled family like Fred or are poor but content like the Cratchits, consider yourself blessed.
“They were not a handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes were far from being water-proof; their clothes were scanty; and Peter might have known, and very likely did, the inside of a pawnbroker’s. But, they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time; and when they faded, and looked happier yet in the bright sprinklings of the Spirit’s torch at parting, Scrooge had his eye upon them, and especially on Tiny Tim, until the last.’
The key phrase here is pleased with one another…and contented with their own company. Sadly, some families are not content with each other’s company…or they were at one time but have fallen apart. I wonder if this is due to modern times, families no longer live close by, it takes more of an effort to get together and social media seems to have promoted the expressing of hostile opinions which years ago people may have kept to themselves for civility’s sake. If divorce, money quarrels or BB (Bad Behavior) have torn apart your once happy family celebrations then it’s best to accept it, and realize that a) no one can take those happy memories away from you and b) be grateful you are not the person exhibiting the Bad Behavior who most likely is a desperately unhappy soul otherwise why would they act the way they do. Scrooge was nasty and cruel because he was miserable. If the same people exhibit BB year after year or if the thought of spending even a few hours with Drama Queen Debbie, Mean Tease Tony or Narcissistic Nina, is ruining your Christmas once again then it may be time to wish them well and move on. Some things cannot be mended. Real Life is not always like a Hallmark movie. The only reason the theme of the book works is that Scrooge is WILLING and ABLE to change. He wants to be a better person, a nicer kinder man. Sadly, some people lack the ability or desire (be it because of alcohol or drug abuse, mental illness, self-centeredness or just a general lack of self-awareness), to express goodwill towards others.
Most people want a bit of a crowd around at Christmas, the more the merrier. But if you find yourself alone at Christmas, remember that many people in the world share this as a sad time, as 40% of the population now lives alone, many of them older people who have lost love ones. Keep busy, and concentrate on the parts of Christmas you enjoy – the lights, the music, the decorations, the food, the movies, the company of good friends – there is much to love about Christmas. If you are grieving and just can’t face the pressure of trying to act festive, it is perfectly okay to skip Christmas this year. Stay home or travel someplace new, a friend of mine went to Paris one year. Far better to be home alone with a good book for company, as the young Scrooge was in his schooldays, than to suffer through another round of socializing which may only end up making you feel worse.
‘The Spirit touched him on the arm, and pointed to his younger self, intent upon his reading. Suddenly a man, in foreign garments: wonderfully real and distinct to look at: stood outside the window, with an axe stuck in his belt, and leading by the bridle an ass laden with wood.
`Why, it’s Ali Baba.’ Scrooge exclaimed in ecstasy. `It’s dear old honest Ali Baba. Yes, yes, I know. One Christmas time, when yonder solitary child was left here all alone, he did come, for the first time, just like that. ‘
To hear Scrooge expending all the earnestness of his nature on such subjects, in a most extraordinary voice between laughing and crying; and to see his heightened and excited face; would have been a surprise to his business friends in the city, indeed.
`There’s the Parrot.’ cried Scrooge. `Green body and yellow tail, with a thing like a lettuce growing out of the top of his head; there he is. Poor Robin Crusoe, he called him, when he came home again after sailing round the island. `Poor Robin Crusoe, where have you been, Robin Crusoe.’
Was there ever a better message of goodwill towards men?
‘These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with beaming looks, while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and cracked noisily. Then Bob proposed:
`A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us.’
Which all the family re-echoed.
`God bless us every one.’ said Tiny Tim, the last of all.’
My favorite part of the 1951 movie is the scene at the end where a hesitant Scrooge, with a bit of encouragement from the maid, opens the door to his nephew’s parlour. He is ready, and his transformation and redemption are complete.
‘He passed the door a dozen times, before he had the courage to go up and knock. But he made a dash, and did it:
`Is your master at home, my dear.’ said Scrooge to the girl. Nice girl. Very.
`Where is he, my love.’ said Scrooge.
`He’s in the dining-room, sir, along with mistress. I’ll show you up-stairs, if you please.’
`Thank you. He knows me,’ said Scrooge, with his hand already on the dining-room lock. `I’ll go in here, my dear.’
And so we come to the perfect ending…
‘Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.
He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!
(Post script: The illustrations are by John Worsley from my 1985 edition)