Tis the Season of Good Will. So, mindful of the fact that for many this Christmas Day will not be the one they had hoped for, I’m putting aside the serious tone of my usual columns to concentrate on something a little lighter.
Today, Christians the world over celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus, yet it wasn’t until 336AD that the Romans first adopted the 25th December as a Christian festival. Whatever the reason they selected that exact date, for hundreds of years it remained only a minor celebration in the Christian calendar, indeed it wasn’t until the Victorians that something we’d recognise as Christmas began to emerge.
As with so much of that period, the Royal Family played a significant role, importing the traditions of their ancestral German homelands into common British practice. Yet, if there’s one person who can be said to have inspired Christmas as we think of it today, we see his presence filling the Christmas TV schedule every year. That man of course was Charles Dickens.
I remember being taken to see A Muppet’s Christmas Carol as a child, but it took another twelve years before I got around to reading the work itself along with Dickens’ numerous other Christmas stories. These novellas, best sellers of their day, managed over the course of decades to reshape the public’s conception of the festival and how it was celebrated. Even today the quintessential Christmas image is incomplete without snow-filled Victorian streets.
Of course, this is a column in the Crawley Observer, so what on Earth is the connection to Crawley? Well, years before it became home to Crawley Museum, The Tree belonged to man named John Leech, one of the most famous cartoonists of his day. A fantastic illustrator, amongst Leech’s many works were the images which helped make Charles Dickens’ Christmas stories so popular.
Crawley may be a New Town, but its history stretches back much further and it is fair to say that the very roots of Christmas itself can be found as much beneath The Tree in our High Street as anywhere else.