Every year as people “take on” Christmas, stress arises. I remember when I was growing up, my mom used to say, “I wish Christmas would be like it used to be.” You know the one. The one where snow gently falls on a quaint English manor, everyone’s home and a gorgeous festive dinner is served.
Did you know that this idealized version of Christmas has never existed? The Christmas that Americans and even the world knows and celebrates is actually a place of make-believe made up in the minds of men. Charles Dickens and Washington Irving wove enchanting, nostalgic tales that transported people back to Merrie England when life was supposedly more simple and traditions were said to be more innocent.
It makes a great story. A fantastic one, in fact. It’s so fantastic that Dicken’s A Christmas Carol has been adapted for stage, television and film more than 50 times in recent decades, more than any other story in history. The cast of characters have been played by the elite of the British stage (Albert Finney, Patrick Stewart), comedians (Bill Murray, Kelsey Grammer & Jim Carrey), women (Vanessa Williams, Susan Lucci), country stars (Hoyt Axton, Jack Palance), and cartoon characters (Mr. Magoo, Scrooge McDuck & The Muppet’s). There’s even an all-dog version.
Just remember that the ideal Christmas is a myth. Nostalgia can’t remain as it used to be as fascination runs smack-dab into facts in this intruding Information Age. Both Dickens and Irving helped create the idealized version of Merrie England out-of-thin-air rather than the rowdy medieval Christmas that had actually existed in their day. They used historical fiction (i.e., historical nostalgia) to manipulate people’s emotions to vicariously experience the idealized Christmas of old, which actually inspires a reminiscent longing. Its intent is to get people to recall a long-lost, long-forgotten memory or experience, no matter if it’s true or not. Look up the word “nostalgia” in the dictionary and discover that it describes a longing for the past, often in an idealized form.
It’s rather ironic that A Christmas Carol was the first vehicle that turned Christmas into a crusade against selfishness and greed, because these qualities have always been part of Christmas’s DNA (I’ll share more on that later). Dickens also revived some other crucial elements of Christmas’s DNA, which were the lost medieval link between the Nativity and Yule as well as the link between worship and midwinter feasting.
Washington Irving has been called America’s best storyteller. His make-believe world of feudal hospitality with a procession with a boar’s head helped revive interest in Christmas at a time when it was waning. His fantastical creation called The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1819-20) not only contained “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle,” but also five made-up sketches of Christmas at Bracebridge Manor in England. This old fashion Christmas caught the imagination of both Americans and Englishmen.
Dickens, Irving and even the British royal family (Queen Victoria and Prince Albert) did much to change the ideas and images of the 19th century Christmas. It’s largely the image of our modern Christmas today. Its’ emphasis were and are anchored in the Victorian values of family, children, goodwill and nostalgia.
No matter how laudable these values are, we need to remember that the ideal Christmas has never, ever existed (unless you and your family have pulled that rabbit out of your hat). So remember when you have to get those Christmas cards out, finish you shopping, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, just take a deep breath; and maybe, instead of thinking of those times when life was more simple, you could actually make your life more simple today.
Copyright Nov 18, 2012 – Author: Robin Main.
Most references to the things I write on this blog can be found in my book SANTA-TIZING: What’s wrong with Christmas and how to clean it up (available on amazon http://www.amazon.com/SANTA-TIZING-Whats-wrong-Christmas-clean/dp/1607911159/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1353692179&sr=1-1&keywords=SANTA_TIZING).