1843: What a year!
The first major wagon train set out for the West. The first minstrel
show was put on in New York. The city of Victoria in British Columbia
was founded, Poe gave us "The Tell-Tale Heart", and
Hans Christian Andersen published "The Ugly Duckling".
Mostly though, 1843 is really
the beginning of the Modern Christmas.
Christmas had been a legal holiday
in Great Britain for just nine years at the time, but the populace
was taking the holiday newly to heart in a big way. A good deal
of the credit for this belongs to Prince Albert, husband of Queen
Victoria, who was introducing many germanic Yuletide customs to
the royal household and, England being England, anything
the royals did in those days was bound to be mimicked faster than
one could say "Ebenezer Scrooge". Thus were many customs
of the Continent introduced to the U.K., including, in 1841, the
setting up of the first fully decorated Christmas Tree in Merry
Now, just two years later, a most
singular addition to the joyous newly discovered rituals was added:
one Henry Cole thought there might be a market in the selling
of little cards for people to send to loved ones at this festive
time of year. He may have been onto something...
Yes, the Christmas Card would
certainly have put 1843 on the map all by itself, but this most
notable invention was itself overshadowed by a modest little story
that also appeared that year: Dickens' immortal "A Christmas
These two events, coupled with
the inherent romance of the Royal Tree all aglow, and further
augmented by the growth of England's middle class, served to kick
the collective Holiday Spirit into high gear. Cards and evergreens
proliferated, but, most of all, Christmas became the time for
Before the 1840's, spring had
always been the peak book producing season. Now, thanks to Dickens,
all that changed. Everyone wanted to get in on the action, and
few did so with more verve than Charles Dickens himself. He spearheaded
a movement that soon saw special books and magazines published
especially for the Holidays, and by the end of the decade October
had become the busiest month for book production.
It remains so to this day!
Now, I have waxed nostalgically
and fondly on my own Christmases Past many a time in these hallowed
columns, and more than once on the old tradition of the Christmas
Eve Book. These days, however, my thoughts are more with the New
than the Old, being a new father at a relatively advanced age.
I remember back in October of
2007 alluding to a wonderful little book called "A Red Skeleton
in Your Closet". It was a book of ghost stories for younger
readers collected by none other than Red Skelton, first published
in 1965. The large hardbound edition includes several delightfully
humorously spooky little illustrations.
Little Clara has just discovered
these illustrations. The Red Skelton ghost collection is now her
At just fourteen months, she has
gone from pointing at pictures to find out what the words for
them are to actually pointing at printed words... She is going
to be trouble.
And I think I know someone who's
getting a book this Christmas Eve!