Charles Dickens is a bona fide nitwit. In his book, ‘A Christmas Carol’, not only did he forget to include a character named ‘Carol’, he victimized a man of advanced years just because he was thrifty. Granted, ‘A Christmas Scrooge’ sounds somewhat unsavoury, but in less judgmental times Ebenezer Scrooge would have been lauded as a fiscally conservative hero. Worse still, Dickens needlessly uses ghosts to transport our misunderstood protagonist to the past, present and future. It’s totally pointless – Christmas has always been about time travel.
There’s no other day of the year that can move you so effortlessly from one point in your life to another. No matter what age you are, you can feel like a child again, even if it’s just for a fleeting moment. Charles Dickens knew that. But I don’t need a ghost to help me see Christmases past, present and future. For me, seeing the past, present and future is what the day is all about. Christmas is a signpost, a crossroad and gigantic roundabout with a tramline running through it (possibly) all at once. It’s a day that tells you where you’ve been, where you are and where you’re going. It’s glorious.
The sense of nostalgia is especially potent at my father’s house. That’s partly because he still uses the same artificial tree and decorations he did when we were kids. I realize that the very notion of an artificial tree can be controversial to some, but their allure lies in the promise that you’ll never have to buy another Christmas tree again. My father has taken that promise to heart. In the four decades since he purchased his artificial tree, the plastic needles have fallen away, leaving what’s left totally denuded and looking like a demented TV antennae. That it he sets it up whenever he wants to watch something on SBS only entrenches this impression further.
It’s not just the tree. As kids, we were required to remove the wrapping paper with the utmost care, ensuring no rips or tears. It was a task we approached with all the caution of a member of the bomb squad. He even gave us each a scalpel. This has enabled my father to reuse the same paper numerous times over the subsequent decades. There’s an upside. These days it can be difficult to secure a supply of ‘Six Million Dollar Man’ wrapping paper, but each year I can rely on my gifts being swaddled in cartoon images of Steve Austin. It’s comforting.
Other things change quickly. Two years ago, I headed down to family Christmas on my own. It was a difficult day but, luckily, I had Steve Austin wrapping paper to look forward to. A year later, I was arriving in a small minivan full of people. It was to be an entirely different experience. A better one. Twelve months earlier, I’d driven down with just my thoughts for company. It was a lousy experience. In contrast, the following year was full of colour, movement and chaos.
Arriving with such a large entourage was new for me. I’ll admit there were moments that caught me off guard. Especially when the eight year old loudly declared that his seventeen-year-old sibling had an image on his cap that, for reasons associated with good taste, I’ll simply describe as a ‘Dickens’. The picture had been drawn on with black texta and, hopefully, was not to scale. It was a moment of great excitement that resulted in some rather heated discussion.
As to why the image of a male appendage had been drawn on the hat or why this hat had been selected for Christmas lunch was never explained, as the seventeen year old kept his thoughts to himself. In a moment of panic, his sister snatched the cap and used a marker to turn the offending image into holly. By the time she was done, it looked quite festive. With the stroke of a pen, the Dickens had become decorative. A Christmas miracle!
Truth be told, I’ve always loved Christmas. But there were times when my family was no good at it. For a little while, after we all left home, we struggled to come together on Christmas Day. Looking back, I’ve no idea why that was. What I know, however, is that it all changed when the first nephew arrived; Christmas was instantly reinvigorated with purpose and meaning. It’s been that way ever since. Christmas is a malleable thing. It changes as we do.
I’m looking forward to all of it. The threadbare tree skeleton that haunts the living room as presents spill out across the carpet. The sound of children and (possibly) adults screaming with delight as they shred wrapping paper with merciless vigour (my father is more relaxed when it comes to wrapping paper these days), the decorations and the festive jumpers and t-shirts. Crackers and tinsel, baubles and pudding, and even hats that have a giant Dickens drawn on them. I can’t wait. And, when it’s done, I’ll find a moment to sit down with one of my all-time favourite books – ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens and marvel at the transformative nature of good will and generosity of spirit. Then before I go to bed, I’ll likely read the last line of that great book aloud – God bless us. Every one!