So much happiness
“He went to the church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted the children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of homes, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk, that anything, could give him so much happiness.” — Charles Dickens
And speaking (day before yesterday) of the Ghost of Christmas Past, I give you Mr. Dickens, the founder of one of the most sumptuous literary feasts of all time. In a school essay, Drew once aptly described the love of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as “a family heirloom.” I cannot remember a time when my siblings and I weren’t familiar with the tale and its characters, read aloud to us at Christmas and referred to often through the year. We watch every movie version and critique the casting, the adherence to the “canon” of Dickens’ text, and the overall success (or lack thereof) in capturing the spirit of the story. It’s almost a hobby with us.
If you are a Dickens enthusiast, and/or you’ve ever wanted to travel back in time, you probably would love the Dickens Christmas Fair held yearly in San Francisco. The enormous Cow Palace is transformed into a Victorian village, complete with your favorite literary and historical characters from that era. They’re a garrulous lot, scarcely seeming to notice your 21st century attire as they chat with you in their often archaic language. In fact, aside from Fezziwig’s festive warehouse party, talking with various players in the fair’s resident company is my favorite pastime there. Let others peruse the antique books and stylish millinery and sweet-smelling confections for sale. I’d rather listen to Mr. Dickens read at the Green Man Inn.
Since he’s tied with Jane Austen as my second-favorite author, I was quite eager to talk with him personally. I asked him a typically lame fan question: which of his books was his favorite?
“Well, that’s rather like asking which of my children is my favorite, isn’t it?” he answered cheerily. “I suppose my favorite is whatever I happen to be working on at the time. Which is your favorite?”
I consider A Christmas Carol to be so far out in front as to be out of the running, so I answered with the title of my second-favorite, “A Tale of Two Cities.“
“Ah, an interesting choice – a bit of an exception for me, as a historical novel. Most of my stories are written in our own time, you know.”
Oh, yeah, “our own time.” I had already slipped back into the 21st century; it took me a minute to follow him on that one. Even when I re-adjusted my mental clock to the early 1800’s, I had to admit I had never thought of it that way. That old Charles Dickens always has something interesting to say.
No small part of the magic of Christmas is what readers and writers refer to as the “willing suspension of disbelief.” I think adults who are adept at this particular skill — when appropriate, of course — are most able to enjoy the holidays, or for that matter, literature, art, drama and music in general. If you don’t know the immense pleasure of make-believe, it is never too late to learn. As Mr. Rogers knew, it’s not only a fun way to pass the time; it teaches us valuable lessons that our logical minds might dismiss as unnecessary or foolish.
I hope sometime during this season, you will be able to lose yourself in a wonderful story, a beautiful piece of music, or in appreciation of the dazzling and original artistry seen in decorations at this time of year. You’ll return from your quick escape with a refreshed spirit, happy to be back in your real life.
One year ago today