For as long as I can recall, my favorite Christmas story has been Charles Dicken’s The Christmas Carol. I don’t remember exactly when I first heard the tale, but I think it was through print when my Mother read it to me as a child. The whole story captivated me, set as it was in the dark days of winter with the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge who, after being visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve, is totally transformed from a stingy curmudgeon into a kinder, gentler man. (Would that such overnight transformations could affect more men today!)
Dickens wrote The Christmas Carol in 1843, and his public readings of it up until his death in 1870 proved very successful. The earliest film version, a silent movie, was produced in 1901. After silent movies, the one that many still consider to be the best even today is the oft -repeated 1951 film with Alistair Sim as Scrooge. In 1954, Frederic March starred in the first musical version, and an updated musical with Albert Finney was released in 1970. George C. Scott starred as a truly irascible Scrooge in the 1984 version (my personal favorite), but Patrick Stewart gave a respectable rendition in the 1999 film. I have seen almost all of these and have, of course, read Dicken’s novella, even aloud, numerous times. In all these years, it has never been out of print, and while there have been over 20 different film renditions in the modern age, including musicals, animations, and even a spoof, its resonance with contemporary audiences does not diminish. Timelessness is the very definition of a classic and I simply HAVE to watch some version of The Christmas Carol every holiday season.
For the first time in ten years, our little family returned to Cape Cod for Thanksgiving this year. One of our favorite spots for shopping on Black Friday was a shop on Route 28 called Christmas Joy. It was there in 1987 that I bought my very first Byer’s Choice Christmas Carol figure, Jacob Marle (copyright 1987, made in Chalfort, PA). In subsequent years and visits to the Cape, I collected the whole cast of characters that Byer’s Choice produced. I now have Scrooge and the three spirits, plus the Fezziwigs and the Cratchits, including Tiny Tim, in all eleven of them including a town crier announcing a Dickens reading of the story. They march proudly down my long library shelf. These Byer’s characters are among my most favorite Christmas decorations, not only because they depict the story that I love, but because they remind me of our many Thanksgivings spent on Cape Cod.
After a ten year absence, I am happy to say that the venerable Christmas Joy shop is still in business (since 1976) on Route 28 and still selling Byer’s Choice figures. (See above.) And I am pleased to report that many of our other pre-holiday Cape Cod favorites over Thanksgiving are still intact and in operation. For example, we had lunch at the historic Dan’l Webster Inn in Sandwich, MA, renowned for their chicken pot pies (which we had); we stayed at the gracious Chatham Bars Inn in Chatham, where we had stayed in 1987 in the very first year they began to be open year-round to include Thanksgiving; and we visited the Chatham Light (1877), one of the few lighthouses still in operation, today as a US Coast Guard auxiliary. So much history, and so many memories.
Thanksgiving on the Cape heralded the holidays for us for many years, not only because of the quaint shops and holiday decorations, but because it was always late November when the Atlantic is misty and moody and cold — sort of like Dicken’s London in the late fall of the 1840s. We had friends with a house on the Cape, and often had Thanksgiving dinner with them, but we also had our own favorite haunts and our own little traditions. One of them, while sitting in traffic on I-95 on the return trip home to Connecticut, was stopping in at a giant Toys Are Us store just outside of New Haven to shop for presents for our son who was with us, of course. (He had long since given up belief in Santa and delighted in picking out his own toys; he is still a persnickety shopper.) We always returned home on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, as we did this year, and on Sunday, I always made a turkey dinner so we would have leftovers. And so I did that this year too.
In many respects, these days of pre-Christmas are the best days of the season. We haul out our decorations and review all the events associated with them; we see old friends and renew old acquaintances; we write holiday cards and hear from those far away. As we get older and grow into adulthood, the thrill of Christmas morning and the anticipation of presents under the tree pales in comparison to the cherished memories of Christmases past. We remember the loved ones we no longer have with us and the loved ones we are grateful to still enjoy. Before the frenzy and beyond the shopping-day countdown, these early days of Advent offer us exactly what they are intended to offer: a time to contemplate what really matters at Christmas.
Here’s wishing you Christmas Joy.