In “A Victorian Christmas,” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd describes Charles Dickens’ final Christmas as “painful and miserable.”
In many of his literary works Dickens had managed to find some redeeming value in Christmas. At the last he was confined to bed, beset by sheer exhaustion and severe gout. Even after a lifetime of literary successes, the novelist was haunted by the fear of future obscurity.
And yet Dickens seems to have come to accept the hand that fate had dealt him. With an air of equanimity he advocated that each one of us should “Welcome, alike what has been, and what never was, and what we hope may be, to your shelter underneath the holly.”
As enlightening as Dowd’s Dickensian column is, to my mind one reader’s comment trumps it.
Bryan Barrett of Malvern, Pennsylvania, records a tale of forgiveness recalled from a boyhood Christmas long past.
In 1950 Santa was intercepted and his gifts placed in my Dad’s car mysteriously disappeared. Panic at midnight ensued; the police were informed as was the toy store owner. I accompanied my Dad to the toy store to replenish and returned home where the police were waiting with the purloined toys and the suspect. My Dad invited all inside our home where he poured Irish Whisky. He requested that the police not press charges, drive the man home with the gifts, and all drank a toast to Christmas. The following morning Dad arose early, drove to his sisters store, loaded his car with food and delivered it to the man, who had seven kids, no job, no money and was desperate. They had grown up together. My Dad arranged a job for him which he held until he retired. For many years Dad sent a Christmas food hamper to them until the kids were raised and never mentioned this wonderful incident to anyone. My Mom and yours truly were the only witnesses, other than the police and the desperate man.
Would that we all, like Barrett’s father, might practice the Dickensian tradition — both at Christmas time and throughout the year.