Christmas was mostly typical for my brother and I growing up. It was a little more secular than religious (I can count the number of times I’ve been in a church for Christmas on one hand). My brother and I pored over dense Sears catalogs circling every last thing we could possibly want. We decorated a Christmas tree (a live one in a pot, but still). We rolled out Christmas cookies with Mom. We crammed ourselves in the family car and drove the snowy roads to grandparents’ houses across the Midwest. But it was always, always, about family, togetherness and generosity.
Naturally, as a parent, I adopted most of the same traditions for our new little family, but this Christmas we found ourselves doing something different. We still put out stockings and decorated our tree, but instead of Christmas lists, cookie making, and singing carols we Christmas Carol-ed the Dickens out of Christmas.
We watched three versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol together: Disney’s a Christmas Carol, A Muppet Christmas Carol and The Smurfs Christmas Carol. We listened to The Magic Tree House: A Ghost Tale for Christmas. We read a children’s version of the Christmas classic together and we wrapped it all up with a visit to Hazelwood Historic House’s A Dickens of a Christmas for a living-history experience of a Dickens Christmas. We met Marley, the Spirits, Fezziwig, the Cratchitts and even Charles himself.
I felt it was necessary (ahem) to do further research so I read the original Christmas Carol and The Man Who Invented Christmas and thought it would be a good idea to watch Scrooged and then Blackadder’s Christmas Carol. You know, all in the name of research.
It seems like a lot of work, doesn’t it? What did my son think of all this “research”? Honesty, it just came together once we decided to go to Hazelwood Historic House’s upcoming A Dickens of a Christmas. We watched one version, then another and it started to snowball. We found ourselves immersed in Dickens.
We watched looking for similarities and differences, themes, what we liked and didn’t like. We talked about how different writers, directors, illustrators and performers can have different interpretations of the same piece of work. Different approaches can mean scary ghosts or goofy ghosts, a grim and grey city or a warm and colorful city. They can make a movie scary like Disney’s a Christmas Carol (Hindsight- Nightmare City). We also talked about commercialism, why there are so many versions and what it means to stay true to the spirit of an author’s work (Smurfs, not so much).
At Hazelwood we learned there wasn’t a Christmas as we know it until Charles Dickens created A Christmas Carol. He sort of wrote the kind of Christmas he wanted to see. So I’m building the Christmas I want to see. This will be a new Christmas tradition for us; choosing a classic tale or song and reading, watching or listening to several versions of it. Maybe next year we’ll explore the legends of Saint Nicholas. Or maybe we’ll just track down more and more versions of A Christmas Carol every year.
You know what? As educational as it was discovering art and history, and spending so much quality time together meant it was still all about family. Plus it was a great excuse to spend waaaaay too much time in front of the television watching Christmas movies.
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