You cannot, of course, write a series on fictional Christmases without mentioning Charles Dickens' ghost story and tale of redemption: A Christmas Carol. Indeed, it is claimed that this story is what has made Christmas what it is. You don't need me to tell you the story of how three ghosts convinced the cold, heartless miser Ebeneezer Scrooge that Christmas was not a waste of time and money, but a time to show love and compassion to one's fellow human creatures, and especially those who are poor and suffering. Probably you've read the book, certainly you've seen it acted out, either by Muppets or Mickey Mouse, actors or singers, set in Christmas Past, Christmas Present and maybe even Christmas Yet To Come.
I wrote last year about the deep themes of this book, about what Dickens' message of the real meaning of Christmas is all about, so I shan't cover the same ground today. Instead, I'll think of the nostalgic, romantic view of the Dickensian Christmas, cinnamon-and-sugar scented, candlelit and joyful, with a soundtrack of church bells and merry voices singing carols. I think of this Christmas ideal when working on the front tills at work, when it's got dark and I see the glowing lights and tinsel decorations in the windows of the chocolate shop across the road. When I go into Julian Graves with my mum to stock up on turkish delight, sugar almonds and spiced punch, I am taken back to Dickens' Christmas Eve, or the version of it that has evolved in my mind.
The Grocers'! oh the Grocers'! nearly closed, with perhaps two shutters down, or one; but through those gaps such glimpses! It was not alone that the scales descending on the counter made a merry sound, or that the twine and roller parted company so briskly, or that the canisters were rattled up and down like juggling tricks, or even that the blended scents of tea and coffee were so grateful to the nose, or even that the raisins were so plentiful and rare, the almonds so extremely white, the sticks of cinnamon so long and straight, the candied fruits so caked and spotted with molten sugar as to make the coldest lookers-on feel faint and subsequently bilious. Nor was it that the figs were moist and pulpy, or that the French plums blushed in modest tartness from their highly decorated boxes, or that everything was so good to eat and in its Christmas dress; but the customers were all so hurried and so eager in the hopeful promise of the day, that they tumbled up against each other at the door, crashing their wicker baskets wildly, and left their purchases upon the counter, and came running back to fetch them, and committed hundreds of the like mistakes, in the best humour possible; while the Grocer and his people were so frank and fresh that the polished hearts with which they fastened their aprons behind might have been their own...
You can keep your Black Fridays and your January sales; just let me retreat into this book for a heartwarming, joyful Christmas shopping experience.