I’m dreaming of a white Christmas just like the one I use to know. The first line of the Bing Crosby hit song that sold over 50 million copies, so it must have struck a cord with a lot of people. but of course its all subjective. Millions of people around the world have very different experiences of the celebration. There are however a number of recognised templates for the festive enjoyment that seem almost universal, for example we are now into the customs of sending greeting cards, exchanging gifts, we put trees up in our homes and decorate them with tinsel, we put the gifts we have worked hard all year to be able to afford under the tree, but then we tell our children they were left by a old man with supernatural powers, a red face and a long beard, wearing a red cloak who came into our homes in the dead of night when we were all asleep,under any other circumstance other then Christmas this would sound terrifying, its a miracle our children are not in theapy with post Christmas trauma Yet most of these traditions are the result of a timely Victorian intervention giving Christmas a much needed make over and a reinvention of some of the fast fading customs and traditions that can be traced back past Christianity to our pagan roots. Take the Christmas card industry, the millions of cards sent out each year owe their existence to a gentleman by the name of Henry Cole who asked a artist to design for him a card to send out during festive season to friends. The card featured his family sitting around the table enjoying a lavish dinner and had a simple season greeting. The idea at once caught on with the wealthy Victorians families and soon businesses adopted it and so was born a monster of a industry that would, in just over a hundred years grow to include every imaginable occasion from the cradle to the grave.
The idea of the Christmas tree had long been a tradition in Germany where a evergreen tree was brought into the home and decorated and many believe it was Prince Albert , the German husband of Queen Victoria who first introduced the custom to Britain. Now if the Royle Family decide to dig up a tree and bring it into the palace, not hard to see how the fashion would have spread.
The giving of presents at Christmas seems to have grown from giving a small gift of nuts or fruit wrapped up in brightly coloured paper that also acted as additional decoration to hang on the tree. But soon people would start buying larger more expensive presents from shops too heavy to hang on the tree ,thus began another tradition of leaving the presents under the tree and in so doing dislodged the first pebble of the consumer avalanche that many believe blights the true spirit of the season today..
But let us for a moment backtrack to the old guy with the beard and ask who is Father Christmas
Well it seems FC is a bit of a enigma and the origins of Santa Claus alias Papa Noel. Ded Moroz, Pere Noel or a hundred other names from around the world depends pretty much on which country’s story you care to run with. The name Santa Claus originates from the Dutch words Sinta Claus, the affectionate name of Saint Nicholas who it is said was born in Patras Turkey in A,D 280. he is the patron saint of both sailors and children. It would seem Nick was a bit of a wiz kid in his day due to his elevation to the status of Bishop of Myre when he was still in his teens and was referred to as the Boy Bishop, which seems ironic when you think he is historically the most famous geriatric ever. Now in this version Nick (the early days) he is portrayed as a generous Bishop going from town to town giving money to the poor and needy and spreading merriment in his wake.
The traditional English Father Christmas goes all the way back to a pagan Britain and was part of a mid winters festival. Old Winter as he was often called dressed in green as a sign of the returning spring Now Old Winter was not the giving type and seems to spend most of the time going from one house to another partying, feasting and making merry, which if we was making a direct comparision between him and Saint Nick, Old Winter does it seems look tad selfish, but in his defence there was a distinct shortage of Chimneys in pagan England and the records show that there does seem many more accounts of merriment in the historic documents then those of benevolence, so on that point it brings us nicely back to the inventive Victorians and in particular the greatest Victorian of them all Charles Dickens.
For it was Dickens who introduce in his book A Christmas Carol a conscience back into Christmas, generosity, goodwill, kindness to those less fortunate. The influence of this book cannot be overstated, the most popular Christmas story of all time has been made into forty one movies, countless plays and television dramas and of course the ever popular book captivating new audiences each year.. Now I don’t consider myself a expert on Dickens but I know someone who is.HMHA is delighted to welcome to this Christmas edition a very special guest writer, the great great great granddaughter of Dickens himself, a best selling author in her own right with 20 books already in the shops and another on the way, Lucinda is patron of the Charles Dickens Museum and respected historian, Lucinda Hawksley Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol as a direct response to his witnessing terrible poverty when he visited Manchester in the autumn of 1843, heartbreaking sights that compounded the poverty he saw all around him every day in his hometown of London. His tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s redemption was intended to shame his middle- and upper-class readers into taking responsibility for helping those in need, for seeing the person behind the streetwalker, urchin or beggar, rather than continuing to shun them as unimportant or useless. One of the most important moments in the book is when the Ghost of Christmas Present begins to fade away and Scrooge notices what he thinks is a claw protruding from under his cloak and asks what it is. The spirit reveals two emaciated, terrible looking children and tells Scrooge they are “mankind’s children”, the boy is named Ignorance and the girl is named Want. Scrooge is warned to “beware them both, especially the boy”. Ever since his own impoverished childhood, and those miserable months walking alone through the mean streets of night time London on his way back to his meagre lodgings after visiting his parents and siblings in debtors’ prison, Dickens had been keenly aware of the multitude of problems caused by ignorance and want. In A Christmas Carol, in his novels and in his journalism, Dickens was on a mission to improve the plight of children and desperate adults, campaigning to educate Britain’s social conscience and to bring about changes to laws that dealt with education, prisons, health and employment. Ignorance and Want were, for Dickens, perhaps the two most vital characters in A Christmas Carol. He wanted his readers to understand that when children were abused, ignored and left in need, they grew up to become angry, violent, dangerous adults. Ignorance and Want, if left to fend for themselves, would become the Bill Sikes, Magwitch, Sarah Gamp, Fagin, Molly or Daniel Quilp of the future.