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Dickensian Christmas - Rochester, Kent

At the 2005 Rochester Dickensian Christmas parade, I watched the Ghost of Christmas Present walk by. He was wearing a green robe bordered with white fur, and had a holly wreath on his head, just as described in A Christmas Carol. Fake soap sud snow sat lightly on his hair. A small snow storm had been shooting out of the window of a pub a little further down Rochester High Street, and everyone in the grand procession who passed by was lightly sprinkled. This Ghost of Christmas Present was a pretend ghost. The dusting of snow on his hair wasn't real. But it was all good fun, and it struck me that it was only right that the Ghost of Christmas Present wasn't real. After all, real ghosts aren't real either.

The Spirit of Christmas is a hard thing to define, which is perhaps why it is termed a spirit. It has been claimed as everything from a riotous feast, to a quiet, pious time of spiritual reflection. Everyone wants a piece of Christmas, but what these pieces add up to is not clear. Scrooge was a man who wanted to make all the pieces of his life add up. His world was uncompromising, his views unyielding. There was no doubt around to soften his heart. And then one Christmas Eve the doubts came to see him. He tried to deny them, tried to kid himself that the Ghost of Christmas Past would not arrive at the tolling of one o'clock, as the ghost of Marley predicted.

"'The hour itself' said Scrooge, triumphantly, 'and nothing else.'

He spoke before the hour bell sounded, which it now did with a deep, dull, hollow, melancholy ONE."

The ghost that arrives at the stroke of one is a surreal figure that "fluctuated in its distinctness: being a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with a pair of legs, now with twenty legs... And in the very wonder of this it would be itself again, distinct and clear as ever". It seems as though Dickens is playing on the double meaning of the word "one": One is a word that describes the smallest part of something, while also describing the oneness that comes when all those little individual parts merge together. Appropriately the ghost who arrives at 1am is distinct and clear, even as all his individual body parts merge bewilderingly. All the clarity of Scrooge's life is melting away. What he believed to be wealth is to be shown up as poverty. The world he thought was one and complete is actually broken into little single pieces.

After revisiting the Christmases of his youth, Scrooge finds himself back in his room, and the clock strikes one for a second time. This is the cue for the Ghost of Christmas Present to take Scrooge to Bob Cratchit's house. Here Scrooge's humble assistant spends Christmas Day with his loving family. It is a Christmas scene that has many hints of poverty, which are almost lost in the impression of endless plenty. Poverty and wealth are different things, while there is a suggestion that they are one and the same.

"There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn't believe there was ever such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple sauce and mashed potatoes, it was sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of bone upon the dish) they hadn't ate it all at last! Yet every one had enough..."

Scrooge has it all, and has nothing, sitting in his cold house, too miserly to put fuel on the fire. The Cratchits have nothing, and in their poverty they find a wealth far beyond that of Scrooge.

The Ghost of Christmas Future arrives to show Scrooge what will become of him if he does not change. Scrooge sees the prospect of dying alone and unloved, and has the change of heart that the spirits hoped for. Instead of keeping all of his wealth for himself, he now gives some of it away, and in having less he finds the way to having more. "God bless us every one" is how the story ends. Everyone is an individual, but the story seems to be saying that each one of us has the chance to be at one with his fellow man.

The Dickensian Christmas is a fun event, and a reminder of how influential Dickens and his Victorian Christmas has been on Christmas celebrations since then.

 

Rochester's Dickensian Christmas usually happens on the first weekend in December. This year it will take place on December 3rd and 4th 2011. Use contact number below for more details.

Contact:

telephone: 01634 338141

 

e-mail: info@medway.gov.uk

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