Booked for Christmas – Across the Frozen Pond

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From left to right:  A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.  Illustrator uncredited, seasonal promotion circa 1930 for Clyde’s Jewelry Shop, Green Bay, WI.  Old Christmas:  A Sketchbook, illustrated by R.Caldecott.  Sleepy Hollow Restorations;  Night Before Christmas, Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Arthur Rackham.  Weathervane Publishing, 1976.

“These Victorian-era Fathers of Christmas, one British, one American, shared an appreciation of humorous satire, of keen social observation, and of England… Also, Charles Dickens and Washington Irving both had a thing for sending people up chimneys…”  Chimneys Dark And Bright, Curator Magazine

I hate to pass the buck, but Washington Irving’s creative influence on Charles Dickens’ is so well documented, you can Google it.  And well worth the Google it is, too.  There’s just too much interesting, truly insightful thought by people who actually know what they are talking about for me to hope to synthesize here.  Never one to let facts interfere with an opinion I have formed, I will say this:  Not for nothing is A Christmas Carol the tale of a haunting.  For Victorians, Scrooge’s journey was a mirror, reflecting their fears of humanity lost to industrialization, and illuminating a means of redemption.  And they took to the work in droves, gobbling up six printings within 3 months of its publication.   Ebenezer embodied their struggle to re-define Christmas as a time not for mere nostalgia or piety, nor for hard-hearted economic concerns, but as a unique opportunity to face both the neglected impulses of charity, and the hidden suffering which underpinned Victorian prosperity.  Does this sound familiar to anyone?

Arthur Rackham’s incredible talent left its fingerprints all over the major storybooks of Edwardian England, a culture obsessed with the fairy realms.   Perhaps this is what made Clement C. Moore’s poem so suited to the time.  “Night Before Christmas” is a perfect vehicle for the Edwardian imagination, detailing an encounter with the mysterious forces of the fairy world, at work in the commonplace setting of an ordinary home.  And Rackham seems to have actually read the poem.  His Santa in an elf, a gnome, a sprite tiny enough to fit down the slimmest chimney, and powerful enough to magically bend gravity, time and reindeer to his will.  The tale is fanciful enough without overselling the drama.  Rackham’s images, though now historic, bring the enchantment of Christmas Eve right into our own familiar realm.  With powerful restraint, both style and palette imply reportage – “This is how it happened – in our home!

And as everyone from Jacob Marley to George Bailey knows, home is where the Christmas magic is always to be found.

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