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Merry Christmas

‘Upon the branches of my tree,’ with Charles Dickens

“Oh, now all common things become uncommon

and enchanted to me! All lamps are wonderful;

all rings are talismans.”

Upon this Christmas of 2012, while your tree is still gracing your home, we turn to the rich words of Charles Dickens. His great words about Christmas and its full meaning are not confined to his 1843 classic, “A Christmas Carol.” He followed it in 1848 with “The Christmas Tree,” a radiant meditation on the power of imagination.

In this combined homage and ghost story, “The Christmas Tree” speaks to the visual and spiritual wonder of the tree, and the deep emotions borne not only by its boughs but by the treasures we place upon them.

Dickens begins, “I have been looking on, this evening at a merry company of children assembled round that pretty German toy, a Christmas tree. The tree was planted in the middle of a great round table, and towered high above their heads. It was brilliantly lighted by a multitude of little tapers; and everywhere sparked and glittered with bright objects.” He lists them at length … “there were fiddles and drums, there were tambourines, books.” … “all kinds of boxes, . . “trinkets and banners, . . . teetotums, humming tops, real fruit, made artificially dazzling with gold leaf imitation apples, pears, and walnuts, crammed with surprises ...”

Paragraphs unfold like presents in the unwrapping, as Dickens revisits the high, middle and lower levels of the branches, treasuring the memories within and spinning off stories, real or imaginary, inspired by each object:

“ ... when Clowns are shot from loaded mortars into at the great chandelier, bright constellation that it is ...”

“If I no more come home at Christmas time, there will be girls and boys (thank Heavens!) while the World last . . .

“And I do come at Christmas. We all do, or we all should. We all come home ...”

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Dickens writes that the tree “set me to thinking how all the trees that grow and all the things that come into existence on the earth have their wild adornments at their well-remembered time … being now at home again, and alone, the only person in the house awake, my thoughts are drawn back, by a fascination which I do not care to resist, to my own childhood. I begin to consider, what do we all remember best upon the branches of the Christmas Tree of our own young Christmas days, by which we climbed to real life.”

Dickens wonders, through his reverie, what memories or ghosts might remain:

“I know there are blank spaces on thy branches, where eyes that I have loved have shone and smiled; from which they are departed ...”

But as ever, Dickens is less concerned about past memories than about the future welfare of children, and in doing so he invokes the man for whom Christmas is celebrated:

“If age be hiding for me in the unseen portion of thy downward growth, oh, may I, with a grey head, strum a child’s heart to that figure yet, and a child’s trustfulness and confidence!”

“Now the tree is decorated with bright merriment, and song, and dance, and cheerfulness. And they are welcome. Innocent and welcome be they ever held, beneath the branches of the Christmas tree, which cast no gloomy shadow! But as it sinks into the ground, I hear a whisper going through the leaves: ‘This, in commemoration, of the law and love and kindness, mercy and compassion. This, in remembrance of Me!’

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(“A Christmas Carol And Other Haunting Tales,” Doubleday 1998)

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