In the film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz there comes a moment when Dorothy and her fellow travelers are told by the Wizard to "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!" But when Toto, the feisty dog, pulls the curtain aside with their teeth it is revealed that there is no majestic and wondrous wizard, but a man responsible for creating and controlling amazing special effects and theatrics.
In many places in life one will stumble across amazing things. Whether that be the scripting in a film, the theatrics of a play, the colors used in a design, or an amazing novel, there can always be found "a man (or woman) behind the curtain."
Christmas traditions have evolved from the history of the past. Santa Claus himself is a conglomerate of pre-existing mythical beings and stories. One cannot think of Christmas without also considering the traditions that contribute to making it "the most wonderful time of the year."
Like genealogy, one can also trace back the lineage of traditions to find their origin. Among the lineage of traditions you may or may not be surprised to find a common ancestor. The same Norse myths and legends that inspired Santa Claus also trickled down in a more direct route to inspire the Marvel interpretation of the white-bearded Asgardian king Odin (as portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins in the films).
This idea of a common ancestor among traditions has led me on a greater journey of connecting the dots in the Christmas world. With the formation of the United States, the country had no traditions or holidays they could claim all to their own. We see them looking towards their mother country of England to claim anything in this regard. In the 1800's we see among the different movements occurring (the Industrial Revolution, the Second Great Awakening, etc.) a great surge of people embracing and adapting foreign holidays and traditions.
With the marriage of Queen Victoria to her cousin Prince Albert, the tradition of Christmas trees is introduced to the entire world. With the advancement of the postal service, Christmas cards come into existence. But there is one common ancestor I am excited to discuss with you today. It is none other than a short novel by Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol.
Without a doubt, no other work of literature has jolted and transformed the time surrounding a holiday with more vigor than A Christmas Carol has for Christmas.
The publishing of A Christmas Carol saw the culmination of Christmas becoming as much a holiday for non-Christians as it was for Christians. Instead of preaching belief in Christ, it taught in parable the same fundamental principles found in the New Testament.
Now, I'm not claiming that was Dickens' goal. Not at all. I am merely drawing parallels to explain how it affected the Christmas season. With a more worldly take on what was kind and harmful, the message the book contained was received extremely well. Historians will agree that A Christmas Carol greatly influenced how Christmas is celebrated today. The charitable ideas of "goodwill toward men," the closing of shops during the holiday, and the idea that Christmas was a time to spend with loved ones were all portrayed in the book. The story was a sensation, and the United States especially ate it up.
Within the pages we find a message of reflection and change. As the story is in the public domain there have been countless adaptations on both the stage and in film. Though these works are the most common way to become familiar with the story, there is no substitute for reading the words first read by individuals during the Christmas season of 1843 and the subsequent years.
Our episode this week focuses on A Christmas Carol and the role it played in transforming Christmas. I had the privilege of roping in my father-in-law who has a strong background in both religious and literary education. As a teacher who has lectured on A Christmas Carol countless times, there is no better guide to introduce us to some of the "soul" of this holiday-revolutionizing piece of literature.
You can watch this week's episode here: Season 02
Yours as always,