It’s a common assumption that Charles Dickens invented modern Christmas, perhaps because of his popular 1843 book, A Christmas Carol. But he didn’t. Queen Victoria and her German-born husband, Prince Albert, are responsible for introducing the decorated Christmas tree, a Teutonic tradition, to England; they erected one at Windsor Castle in 1841. And it’s Thomas Nast, the German-born American illustrator, who is widely credited with inventing Santa Claus; Nast drew the kindly, portly figure for Harper’s Weekly in 1862 to commemorate the sacrifices of the Union during the U.S. Civil War.
But if Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol more as a commentary on Victorian-era greed than as a salute to the holidays, his vision of Christmas as a time of cozy interiors filled with people, conversation, laughter, warmth, food, drink, song, scents, textures, decorations and love is a compelling one. His own home life, as a recent book reveals, was equally rich. In Charles Dickens At Home, journalist Hilary Macaskill cites the author’s correspondence and other archival material to show how he took great pride in where he lived, perhaps because his childhood, which included frequent moves to avoid his family’s creditors, was a difficult one. For his house at 1 Devonshire Terrace in London, for instance, Dickens set down detailed specifications for the colour of ceilings (a faint pink blush), the skirt boards (imitation of satin-wood) and the exterior (“a nice, bright cheerful green”). Clearly, he was no skinflint in either fact or outlook when it came to domestic matters.
And so it’s only fitting that the beloved author should inspire a Yuletide decor spread. Even if it was unintended, his evocation of the holiday season perfectly encapsulates its spirit.