Dickens /Christmas /A Christmas Tree

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A Christmas Tree – 1850 – A Christmas tale

This was first published in 1850, when much of the English-speaking world was still warming to the idea of a ‘traditional Christmas’. It appeared in the Christmas edition of Household Words.
The narrator begins, I have been looking on, this evening, at a merry company of children assembled round that pretty German toy, a Christmas Tree.

The tree was planted in the middle of a great round table, and towered high above their heads. It was brilliantly lighted by a multitude of little tapers; and everywhere sparkled and glittered with bright objects. One child said of it ‘There was everything, and more’.

The narrator begins by considering, what do we all remember best upon the branches of the Christmas Tree of our own young Christmas days, by which we climbed to real life. He realises that his memory is mostly about toys – a tumbler, a frog, a jack-in-the-box snuff box, a jigging cardboard man.

His thoughts dwelled on a Mask, meant to be droll, but its features were intolerable, dreadful. He thought more fondly of an old donkey with panniers and a black horse with red spots.

The doll’s house was not his, but it inspired many thoughts of feasts sat at its table, using its wooden platters, and of numerous teas.

On its lower branches the tree bears lots of thin books. He pondered how Y was always Yacht or Yew Tree, how Z was for ever Zebra or Zany. He imagines the tree as a beanstalk with Jack climbing to the Giant’s house, wearing his swift shoes and holding his sharp sword.

The tree becomes part of a forest with Red Riding-hood, but this reminds him of cruelty and treachery. The wolf as a result being moved towards the rear of the animals boarding Noah’s Ark.

There is someone in the tree, it is an Eastern King with a scimitar and turban, no, there are two of them, being beckoned by a Princess to rescue her from a giant. He turns to passages he recalls from the Arabian Nights.
In the upper branches is a fairy light and he recounts episodes from Scheherazade’s tales. He imagines others from his books. Then he sees a row of lights the curtain is rising on a Play, it becomes a Pantomime, then a toy theatre.

He ponders Christmas music and the Nativity. He thinks of Christmas as essentially a home thing, journeying home. He recalls the Christmas stories, the Ghost srtories, sat around a Christmas fire, to the smell of roasted chestnuts.

He relates the tale of a stay at a big house that was interrupted by a wan girl, with mud in her hair and dressed as one would be two hundred years earlier, she walks around the room then leaves, they find the door is locked. The story emerges of a young housekeeper who had drowned herself in a pond.

Another large house in the Highlands of Scotland, where a lady at breakfast says she was distrurbed all night by the noise of carriages. She is shushed, the house’s legend is that this is a portent of death, and sure enough the Lady of the house dies.

Becoming more maudlin, he tells a series of bizarre stories. Of two friends who swore they would visit the other after death to prove the spirit survives, The two grew apart but one night at an inn, one of the pair was woken to see his friend in the moonlight. He says that he is dead but cannot tell of the world he inhabits. Another tale was of a young girl who met with herself, and died that night.

Another tale is of the woman who saw her cousin who lived in Bombay on the lane to her house, she saw him go to the house. She rushed in to meet with him, to be told he was not there. They learned later that he died in Bombay at that precise moment.

Finally he tells of an old maiden lady who stayed with her brother in Kent. She was disturbed all night by a forlorn looking boy, peering out of a cupboard, but the cupboard was nailed shut. It was known as the Orphan-boy and had been seen by all three of her brother’s sons. They had all died young after playing with the forlorn Orphan-boy.

He is drawn back to the tree, to more cheerful memories of childhood, reminded of a child’s trustfulness and confidence!

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