We are all familiar with Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. That popular work was largely credited with “rebooting” Christmas celebration and traditions, but one of his lesser-known works on the subject of the yuletide season is this featured story, titled “A Christmas Tree“.
Dickens’ writing was indeed a major proponent in the Victorian resurgence of what we know today as Christmas. Many of the traditions we think of as timeless actually owe their existence to Charles Dickens, and the Christmas tree is one of them.
Beginning in the mid-1600s, Puritans and Protestants shunned all Christmas celebrations as idolatrous, and Christmas traditions of all sorts were fading from public memory and practice by the time Dickens decided to fondly chronicle, refashion and promote the old traditions. Indeed for a period in New England the Puritans made the Christmas tree illegal over concerns of its pagan origins.
“A Christmas Carol” is notable in that it never really touches on the religious significance of the holiday, but focuses on traditions of the season. “A Christmas Tree” does much the same, reintroducing many to the Christmas tree and its decorations by way of an old man recalling the splendorous trees from his youth. In recounting these ‘memories’, Dickens kept alive the tradition of decorating a tree for the holiday, only briefing touching on religious significance.
Today people decorate their trees with tinsel, garland, lights, ornaments and keepsakes. In Dickens’ time, the tree was decorated with candles, gifts and toys and many different things. Gift-giving was a much more modest practice then, which made it easier to decorate the tree so. But the tree tradition is much more than just the decorations.
Dickens makes the tree the central point of Christmas through these recollections, from parties that begin around the tree, to social gatherings and ghost story-tellings that conclude around the tree, making the tree the symbolic social hub of the season.
Dickens’ vivid and appealing descriptions and language lend themselves well to the old man’s recollections of his youthful wonder of the Christmas tree, and easily entice the reader back to pre-Victorian days.
This is a much shorter work than A Christmas Carol. It should take you between half an hour to an hour to read, and you can download the story for free at Feedbooks or listen to the story read aloud by Ruth Golding at LibriVox.org (Track Length about 53 minutes)