What the Dickens?



There’s frost on the lawn this morning! That may seem tame to those of you who have already been smothered with snow, but I’m in balmy Miami where Christmas may be green but has never been white. Still, our timid, almost freezing, cold spell helps set the scene for the best of Christmas stories. No, not the original set forth in the Gospels, but the one told in 1843 by Mr. Charles Dickens.

A Christmas Carol has always played the central role in my family’s celebration. We are of German/Swedish descent so presents were always opened in Christmas Eve. I was born in 1940 in a very snowy Minnesota, and some of my earliest memories are of this holiday. Mom’s traditional Christmas Eve dinner of lamb with mint sauce was hastily consumed because a mound of presents waited gorgeously under the tree. Afterward, she and Dad retired with their brandies in the library, while my younger brothers and I had to clean off the table and do the dishes, pending our father’s stern inspection…anything to delay the opening of presents and thus increase suspense. Inspection achieved, we marched into the library to stare with longing at that decorated pile of gifts. But no, first we must sit and perform Dad’s cutting of Mr. Dickens’s tale. He of course played Scrooge, Mom did the ghosts, I was relegated to Fred and Bob Cratchit, while the younger of my two brothers delivered Tiny Tim’s one line: “God bless us every one.” It was only much later at the midnight service of Christ Church Episcopal that one heard a gospel reading of the original Christmas story.

My mother died almost twenty years ago. Father followed her by a year, and we brothers decided to bring our families and celebrate one last Christmas in their house. This time I got to do Scrooge. The youngest nephew played Tiny Tim.

Through a thirty-year marriage followed by my eighteen-year relationship with Bob, I have found myself bound to a heathen world where presents are opened on Christmas morning. But I still make Alistair Simms’s movie version of Dickens’s tale a mandatory part of our Christmas Eve. Two weeks ago, coming full circle, I used Dad’s cutting and directed a production for our local Dickens festival in Pinecrest Gardens. Imagine that, Dickens in the tropics!

One more Dickensian touch for our Christmas, Bob and I clear off the grand piano and set up the Dickens village pictured above. I do the scenery and play zoning director. He does the lights and makes the train run on time. Nearly a hundred Britains toy lead figures go about their business on the snow lined streets. It’s far from politically correct with a fox hunt the foreground, and the house of Fagin and the other hovels of the poor relegated to the appropriate wrong side of the tracks…but that’s also part of being Dickensian.

One last thought: A Christmas Carol helped to usher in a new and separate secular form of the holiday. Other than the first syllable of the title, Jesus is never mentioned in that story. Instead we hear of charity, family love, and good will toward men. Not a bad legacy. Yet there is always that final ‘God bless us everyone”. Bless you all as well.

Kenneth N. Kurtz recently retired after forty two years of teaching scenic design and theatre history at the University of Miami. His one published literary work is Here, And Always Have Been, a collection of twelve historical short stories about gay life from the Cro-Magnon to the present, written under the name Kenneth Craigside. One of his plays, Chiaroscuro, about Caravaggio, has been produced in Chicago and Palm springs. He is presently working on a novel based on the life of William Beckford.

Advent Calendar Giveaway!

Ken will offer a copy of his manuscript for the play Chiaroscuro (about Caravaggio) or the new script for Tilting at Tilset (about Napoleon and Tsar Alexander for the answer to this question:

What is the one line of dialogue in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol that might be taken in a “gay” way?

Email Ken on: kenart40 at bellsouth dot net and the winner will be announced on Christmas Day

The BONUS BUMPER PRIZE QUESTION (don’t answer this – just save them up for Christmas Eve.)

18. What was the name of the choirboy who sang “Walking in the Air” in the animated film “The Snowman”?

9 Responses

  1. Love your Christmas scene there, but then I’ve always liked train sets.

  2. Wonderful blog. I loved seeing your Dickens village. One of our Christmas traditions was always reading A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve before putting out the cookies and milk for Santa.

  3. It’s funny, but as Advent progresses through its daily dose of Christmas memorabilia, the simple joys of Christmases Past – and perhaps now Christmases Present too – grow fonder in their evocation. Thank you Mr. Dickens & Mr. Kurtz.

  4. A Dickens Christmas village! I’m envious!

  5. Very nice! I need to find my train set!

  6. What a great blend of personal recollection and research. Thanks for sharing your holiday memories with us.

  7. I love that Dickensian tableau.


  8. My mom is an enormous Dickens fan, and many of my childhood memories are muddled with scenes from Little Dorrit or Dombey and Son. I love reading about another family for whom Dickens’ tale was a central part of the holiday.

    And for what it’s worth, the 1938 film version is definitive in my household. 🙂

  9. Such a cool village. My husband says the Alastair Sims version of “A Christmas Carol” is his favorite version ever.

    BTW, will you let people know the answer to your question after Christmas? I don’t have any idea, but I am terribly curious now!

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