Friday, December 14, 2012

A Dickens of a Christmas

A Dickens of a Christmas

     At a gathering my mother met the great-grandson of Charles Dickens. Cedric Dickens is his name. He was selling his book, Christmas with Dickens. My mother bought a copy for me and Cedric Dickens autographed it. Isn’t this neat? That was ten years ago or so. 

Faux mistletoe is in the middle jar.
     The book is a framework of ideas on how to create A Christmas Carol evening. Cedric Dickens and his cousin edited the Carol to 28 minutes of reading aloud. The host or hostess acts as the master of ceremonies. Recipes are provided in the book for a banquet.

     Filling the house with greenery is suggested. Period clothing and period music are optional. Between the courses selections of the Carol are read (with feeling, it is emphasized). Later come parlor games and punch. Although never as elaborate, I have adapted some of the ideas within our family and over the years we have extended the hand of hospitality to friends and neighbors.   

     Traditions were formed by degrees. Several Christmases stand out. Looking at our little tree this year, I recall the simplest Christmas of all. It was in 1986.

     In 1986 we spent Christmas in London, England. Joining the volunteer efforts of a Christian literature mission Dean and I had come for the year with two suitcases each – and our two daughters - then age 2 and 4. We were prepared to live simply. But how appreciative we were when we were able to move from a tiny third-floor flat into a semi-detached house. We thoroughly enjoyed its back garden.
The glass and plastic ornaments, most from the 1960s, remind me of my childhood.

     Along the edges of the narrow, fenced-in lawn, were plants that took turns blooming through the months. The largest was an overgrown holly. I trimmed a branch, brought it indoors, propped it up on a table, and decorated it with popcorn and paper chains. I cut a star out of cardboard, covered it with (you guessed it) silver foil. The star balanced on the top of our crooked little “tree.” Secretly, I thought it drab. But in the eyes of my children it was fine and dandy – and so – for their sake - I thought it fine and dandy, too.

     A month prior a fellow American had handed me a bag of puzzles, plastic toys and picture books that her children had long outgrown. She was, “just now getting around to cleaning out their closets and would your girls like them?” I thanked her and hid the things away to be wrapped for Christmas.

     I remember my girls sitting cross-legged in the middle of the carpet listening to a cassette. They played it again and again. Sometimes I sat with them. Other times I took advantage of the moment to start supper. At the sound of the beep the eldest knew to turn the pages of the accompanying book. With heads together they gazed at the pictures of Joseph and Mary and the lowly stable. They were quite taken up with the Christmas story – even if the incarnation – one of the most marvelous and important doctrines of the Christian faith – was something they would grow to understand better, later – and yet it is too wonderful to comprehend this side of heaven, really. I can still hum the melody of the sweet song that came at the beginning and end of story. I wonder what ever happened to that cassette – narrated beautifully in the King’s English.  

I like sewing pinwheels. Sophia's homemade teddy wears his holiday bowtie.

     One Saturday in December Dad took us to the missionary closet. We could choose what we wished from what had been donated. After an hour of rummaging, trying on things in a curtained corner - elbowroom only and no mirror - we each settled upon a piece of clothing. I’ll never forget the beautiful wool skirt that fit me perfectly – except that I was in denial of it being rather snug at the waist. It was moth eaten in an inconspicuous spot and easily mended. This soft, black skirt, with its ruffle along the hem, had a nice drape. Add a white blouse with a red ornament on its collar, and it looked smart for Christmas Eve service. Wool provided necessary warmth for sitting in the chilly pews of the ancient stone church – Christ Church Bromely.

Relaxing with a needle at Christmastime

     With our new used things and a couple tiny treats for the girl’s stockings, (literary their socks) Christmas Day arrived with smiles all around. After dinner (a meal that Dad relished) we put on our coats and took a walk around the block. The brick houses sat close to the sidewalk and I couldn’t help notice, through the windows of the front parlors, people sitting in chairs arranged in a circle. I found it odd that they were wearing brightly colored paper hats. I learned later that they were waiting for parlor games to start.

A homemade ornament resting on my new plaid skirt. I need to get better at sewing corners.

     Parlor games on Christmas Day became a tradition much later in our lives. With all the years we spent reading A Christmas Carol, listening to it on audio, and watching it on films, it eventually caught on. Perhaps you play them, too.

"There was first a game of blindman’s buff." A Christmas Carol

     It was our Yolanda who initiated Charades, which I explained in a post last year, “Name That Hymn” is one that I started and it stuck. It is a way to give closer attention to lyrics – some of the most precious in all of Christendom. It is fun to include lines from  contemporary songs, too.

     After the main course is cleared the game is played. One by one, each person seated around the table, unfolds his slip of paper and reads it aloud. He then guesses the hymn title. Although my family is pretty good at answers, lines from a third verse can be a challenge. The guesser is permitted to choose one person to assist. A sudden remark blurted out from across the table of  “Ohh, I know,” identifies a willing assistant.
    But Mom urges, “Give him a minute first, please.”

"There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor." A Christmas Carol.

     I typed out some examples. A hostess will enjoy choosing her own lines.

Christmas morning muffins - orange cranberry

1) A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. 
2) Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care, And fit us for heaven, to live with Thee there.
3) Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.
4) Where meek souls will receive Him still, The dear Christ enters in.
5) On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me (what is it?).
6) Where the treetops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow.

     The hostess keeps the corresponding answers handy.

1) O Holy Night
2) Away in the Manger
3) O Come all Ye Faithful
4) O Little Town of Bethlehem
5) six geese a laying
6) White Christmas

I've been meaning to decorate with pineapple on the fireplace mantel for some years. The apples are editble, too.


     My children aren’t little any longer. “Time has stolen them from me” – as one Victorian poem sentimentally refers. While children are with us we work to give them a foundation of pleasant memories – especially because the details of this world are not all fine and dandy. 

     Mom and Dad share the memories. The children grew up and grew into making a memorable Christmas for others. They’ve learned that the advent season is less about material gifts. It is the giving of oneself in various ways and celebrating the joy and true meaning of Christmas.

“. . . apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovel-full of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Crachit family drew round the hearth . . . “ A Christmas Carol

In Fellowship assembled here
We thank thee Lord for food and cheer
And through our Saviour, thy dear Son,
We pray “God bless us everyone.”

Prayer [for the table] discovered by Alan S. Watts, President of the Dickens Fellowship, during research for his book, Dickens at Gad’s Hill. 


  Peace and Good Will,
     Karen Andreola


  1. A beautiful Christmas memory shared...thank you. Your little tree and decorations are wonderful...Christmas blessings to you and yours.

  2. Oh this is simply dear.Thank-you Karen once again for "taking us back".I love the ornaments,so like when I was a child.What a priceless gift your autographed copy is.It really is not about the gifts.It is about Christ.I was reminded in my quiet time this morn, while reading 2 Corinthians 9.The last verse of the chapter Thank God for his unspeakable gift.Blessings to you at this most holy Season.Dawn E. Brown

  3. A lovely post...I enjoyed reading!


  4. A Very Merry Christmas to you and yours!


  5. This is a very lovely post. Thank you for sharing a piece of your family's history. I really like your vintage ornaments! Blessings to you and yours!

    Merry Christmas,

  6. thank you for a beautiful post we've just studied A Christmas Carol so this is very doable and a great idea for my family could you please post the food ideas as I'm so busy that I could not go though the book -turkey I know and chesnuts I can get anyway thanks for a lovely quite spot on the net

  7. I just re-read A Christmas Carol this past week - love it! One of Dickens shorter, easier reads, but with no less meaning and impact. Love the pineapple on your mantel, simple and beautiful.
    We have family arriving tomorrow, more coming next weekend. Fun, busy times with lots of games and the blessing of good food, time "to honor Christmas in our hearts."
    A Merry, Blessed Christmas to you and your family!

  8. What a special and meaningful christmas you enjoyed in England. I really loved reading your post in this time of materialism and mindless spending. Each year I try to reduce, to stick to the basics, but how often we are swept away! And how good to be reminded that laughter, companionship and parlour games are more important than too much food or gifts.
    I also love the cross stitch ornament - how neat and beautiful is everything you do! If you hadn't mentioned the corners I had never noticed. You are such a gifted lady.
    Thanks for the gift of sharing your memories with us!

  9. A beautiful post, Karen. I have some vintage ornaments similar to yours, given to me by my mother. I am reading a selection from A Christmas Carol to my children every evening. We are thoroughly enjoying it.
    Christmas blessings to you and yours,

  10. Companionship and laughter are treasures, I agree.
    Happy to hear from you, Ladies, on this misty, gray Monday morning.

    Dean, with his sharpest knife, sliced the pineapple for us. It was organic but only a dollar-something less cost than pre-cut. I'll have to replenish the mantel for Christmas Day.

    To answer a question about food ideas from "Christmas with Dickens." The banquet is elaborate. The cook would have to start 3 or 4 days prior - especially to prepare the plum pudding course. If she prepared the banquet alone she'd be run off her feet. Among the dozens of suggestions. Here are just a few.

    An appetizer of minted fresh fruit salad or leek and potato soup.

    A fish course of salmon mousse or shrimp puffs.

    A main course of roast turkey or goose with chestnut or apricot stuffing and rich gravy,
    Parsnips, "Bubble and Squeak" or a cabbage dish similar to a warm sweet and spicy coleslaw.

    Homemade fruit cake, I suppose. could be served for the pudding course. Fruit cake is a favorite of the Man-of-the-House.

    Later a dessert course is served of strong cheese, crackers, crisp celery, roast chestnuts, sugared almonds, figs or dates.

    And then punch.

    The menu is for an adult party. It isn't child-friendly. But if you'd like to introduce a fancy dish to the holiday table serve traditional favorites as well. I add maple syrup to our carrots on holidays and a goodly chunk of cream cheese to the mashed potato.

    Karen A.

    Cedric Dickens (1916-2006) was the last living great grandchild of Charles Dickens.

  11. I made Tasha Tudor's Dundee Cakes. They are in the freezer awaiting the Day. Last year I made fruit cake for the first time. It was quite fun and tasted good as well. I'm looking forward to the Dundee Cake because I think we"ll prefer the lighter cake flavor. Christmas experiments are great fun for me!

    I have never made a plum pudding. Each year I think about it. Maybe next year... I've wanted to have roasted goose too, but I'm not overly fond duck. For some reason, I think the two must surely taste alike. Does anyone have any experience with duck vs. goose?

    We are in the thick of Christmas fun and preparation. Cloudy days have made candles and Christmas tree lights very enjoyable during the daytime this past week or so.
    Tomorrow evening is my time to wrap presents and tuck them under the tree!

    A Merry Christmas Season to you!


  12. Lovely post! There is a reason you have long been one of my favorite writers. :)

    I enjoy watching Rick Steve's European Christmas special on PBS (DVD available on Amazon).

    English traditions are shared in it (along with German, Austrian, and a couple others).

    I must admit Christmas is not what it once was now that the kids are grown up. My daughter and her family live too far away to travel with their five kids.

    My son and his new wife will be here on Christmas Eve. We will have an early afternoon dinner so they can attend the Christmas Eve service at their church and then they are having Christmas Day with her extended family.

    We are just so glad they are staying close by for at least a couple years!

  13. Greetings Karen,

    So glad you shared your memories, how special your past Christmas was. A couple of years ago my Mum took us to my cousins shop called Vaillancourt Folk Art. My cousin Judi designs Father Christmas' from antique candy molds. She is illustrating A Christmas Carol also. Anyway, they hosted the great-great grandson of Charles Dickens, Gerald Dickens, who travels and is a one man show of his grandfather's celebrated story. He acts out the whole story, simply amazing! He travels all over, should he be in your neck of the woods you would surely enjoy it! I do make plum pudding, one daughter is partial to it, but the rest of the family loves my French bread pudding with a whiskey sauce. For over 20 years I have set our Christmas day table with English crackers and each year we take pictures with the silly paper hats:-) Have you seen Victorian Farm on youtube? They do a Christmas special you would enjoy seeing, all the old customs. Here is a link to my cousin's shop and the article on Mr. Dickens. Sorry this is so long!



  14. Peace on earth and good will toward men... indeed, dear Karen! What a lovely post, and lovely stitching, too. Your corners are just fine. :)

    A blessed, healthy, and prosperous 2013 to you and yours! ~Lisa

  15. This was absolutely lovely! What precious memories!

    Mrs. White
    The Legacy of Home

  16. Beautiful! We spent one Christmas in a hotel room. We had sold and moved out of our house 7 weeks earlier. We thought we would spend two weeks in a hotel with our 10, 4, 2 year olds and newborn. We were still in the hotel until the day after Christmas, because the sellers of our new house refused to move out even though we had closed! It was a Christmas that changed the way that Mama made Christmas.
    Be blessed!
    Laura of Harvest Lane Cottage
    P.S. Sorry I've fallen off the face of the Earth. I've been pretty tired during these last weeks of treatment. I finish the chemo this week. Hugs!

  17. I know this is an old post, but I've been wondering for six years which Victorian poem you referenced. I've googled "time has stolen them from me" several times over the years, but I have not yet found the answer. Do you remember the poem? Thank you!

    1. It is a prayer [grace for the table] discovered by Alan S. Watts, President of the Dickens Fellowship, during research for his book, "Dickens at Gad’s Hill."