Around the World: Chasing a Dickensian Christmas
Charles Dickens’ universally popular “A Christmas Carol” plays a huge part in seasonal celebrations in communities large and small across the US, with families attend readings of the novella, participating in community caroling strolls and enjoying themed dress up events and the sumptuous feasts staged in a variety of venues ranging from hotels and inns, department stores, malls, dining establishments and town squares.
The annual seasonal focus on Dickens comes as no surprise to those who’ve delved into the history of Christmas celebrations. During the mid-19th century when Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” (the novella was actually first published in 1843), England was under the influence of Victorian conservatism. The Christmas holiday was considered to be a minor one and celebrations had become quite austere.
When Dickens pitched the now beloved novella to his publisher, his idea was rejected as irrelevant and not worth the expense of production. So Dickens, then 31 years old, decided to publish the book himself. It was an instant success. The first edition sold out right away.
The story of how Dickens conceived of, wrote and published ”A Christmas Carol” is nicely told in the 2017 narrative film, “The Man Who Invented Christmas.” The film’s title is quite a good indication of the novella’s cultural impact. “A Christmas Carol” introduced many of the seasonal traditions that are still observed worldwide.
And, of course, family viewing of one of the cinematic versions of “A Christmas Carol” has also become a tradition. Ratings for Robert Zemeckis’ 2009 rendition, starring Jim Carey, soar during the holiday season.
In fact, just about every aspect of contemporary Christmas celebrations has been influenced by Dickens’ imaginings as illustrated in his culturally transformative “A Christmas Carol.” We can thank Charles Dickens for our favored traditions of tree decoration, caroling, feasting and gift giving.
And, thank Dickens, too, for the enjoyable events that bring people together for joyful Christmas celebrations. Seasonal stagings of Dickensian events iare so popular you can undoubtedly find a celebration or festival in your home town or close by. But note that Dickens-inspired celebrations vary from place to place, so chasing a Dickensian Christmas is a popular pursuit for tourists. If you’ve enjoyed one, you’re likely to want to expand your experience to include others.
In the US, major Dickensian Christmas festivities are staged in San Francisco (at the Cow Palace), Galveston (Texas), Garrison (North Dakota), Holly (Michigan), Asheville (North Carolina), Spartanburg (South Carolina), Amelia Island (Florida – a good choice if you want to avoid snow) and dozens of other appealing tourist destinations across the nation and in Canada. Detailed information about all of these can be found on the Internet.
But the best place to experience an unbeatably authentic Dickensian Christmas is in London, where the writer spent most of his life and wrote most of his enduring works.
For a total Dickensian immersion, head for the suburb of Rochester (about an hour southeast of London) where there is a huge and enormously popular Dickens festival. Local folks transform their historic town center into a Victorian village where they stroll through the streets dressed in Victorian garb, stage caroling concerts, attend feasts and a mistletoe ball, and shop in a Christmas market. The festivities add up to Dickensian delight.