A Christmas Carol – Christmas in Charles Dickens Museum

Charles Dickens Museum is dressed for the season, taking visitors back in time and showcase how people celebrated Christmas in the Victorian era.

Step into the house, once Dickens lived and worked; step through the same door he used daily and admire the famous novelist’s house in full Christmas glory.

 

The Entrance Hall

The Entrance Hall - Dickens Museum

Photo: Urban Adventurer

 

The shadowy entrance hall is richly decorated with garlands and Christmas wreaths. Mistletoe is hanging from the chandelier waiting for couples to kiss underneath.

Here some of Dickens’ personal belongings are on display: his walking stick, his leather bag, theatre tokens for his regular theatre trips, his snuff box and silver matchbox.

 

 A Christmas Gift

Christmas Gift From Catherine Dickens

Image Source: @dickensmuseum

  

Next to his theatre tokens, there is an engraved pen and pencil holder Dickens received as a gift from his wife, Catherine in 1838. It is a form of mechanical pen with sliding buttons to turn it from pen to pencil, to quill sharpener.

The message reads: “TO DEAR CHARLIE FROM KATE XMAS 1838” It is believed that Catherine carved the inscription herself with a needle.

Dickens treasured the gift for the rest of his life. He used to take it with him every time he travelled.

 

The Drawing Room

The Drawing Room with Dickens' Armchair

Photo: Urban Adventurer

 

The Christmas tree was placed in the drawing room where Dickens and his guests gathered for drink and entertainment.

In the Drawing Room Dickens would seat in his plum-coloured leather armchair that he probably purchased when he was living in Doughty Street.

 

Dickens Loved Christmas

Christmas Dinner - Charles Dickens Museum

Photo: Urban Adventurer

 

In ‘A Christmas Carol’ Scrooge orders a huge turkey for the Cratchit family as a present. It’s a fascinating fact that this was the scene that helped popularise turkey as a Christmas meat. We also know that Dickens himself loved turkey at Christmas.

As Christmas was very important to Dickens, he ensured that his extended family was present for the holiday season.

Christmas rituals were very similar to those included in ‘Pickwick Papers’ and ‘A Christmas Dinner’. There would have been Christmas carols, festive food and drink, games, dancing and fireside reading.

In 1844 Dickens wrote to his close friend John Forster in a letter:

“Such dinings, such dancings, such conjurings, such blind-man’s-bluffings, such theatre-goings, such kissing-out of old years and kissing-ins of new ones…I broke out like a mad man.”

 

1867 – The Most Miserable Christmas for Dickens

 

In 1867 Dickens travelled to America to perform for his sell-out reading tour. He spent Christmas in America while desperately missing his family and friends. To cure his homesick, Captain James Dolliver enclosed a piece of English Mistletoe in a letter and sent it over to Dickens on a ship delivering transatlantic post.

Dickens was very grateful for the present that offered the author a small piece of home on his difficult trip. He decorated his breakfast table with the Mistletoe on Christmas Eve.

“Dear Captain Dolliver, Accept my cordial thanks for your kind reminder of Home and Christmas-time. It was highly acceptable to me when I saw it lying on my breakfast-table.” – Dickens wrote.

 

 The Importance of the Look of a Book

A Christmas Carol Trial Edition

Image Source: Charles Dickens Museum

 

Dickens was aware of the importance of the look of a book. On writing ‘A Christmas Carol’, he had plans for its design because he knew design is just as important as the novel itself. A rare trial edition of the book, which had come out shortly before the first official edition, Dickens played with colours.

The official edition had salmon brown cloth covering and brilliant illustrations by John Leech. In the trial edition, Dickens introduced a green and red title page to make the book look more Christmassy. However, at the end he settled on red and blue colour combination, perhaps because green colour tended to fade to a drab colour over time.

(Click on the photo above to watch a short video of this.)

 

What Shall We Have for Dinner?

 

Catherine Dickens was a competent and resourceful housekeeper. In 1851 she even published a book, called ‘What Shall We Have for Dinner?” containing recipes and menus. The book had been written based on Catherine’s own experience as a hostess to set menus for parties.

Dickens and his wife loved parties. Many letters survived written by the couple to invite friends for dinner.

It has also been revealed that Dickens loved cheese. This is why nearly third of the menus include cheese in Catherine’s recipe book.

 

 The Christmas Dinner

Christmas Dinner at Dickens Museum

Photo: Urban Adventurer

 

The peak of the Christmas dinner was typically something roasted. This was often turkey but was not obligatory. Often times, in the early 19th century, roast beef was served with plum pudding because it was a perfect accompaniment to it. After the roast, fruits and vegetables were next on the menu. These were typically unseasonal “to demonstrate wealth and status.” – explain Annie Gray in one of English Heritage’s articles.

 

Christmas Desserts - Charles Dickens Museum

Photo: Urban Adventurer

 

These were followed by a series of sweet dishes such as plum pudding (or Christmas pudding), mince pies, and confectionary containing chestnut.

 

 The Servants’ Christmas Dinner

The Servants' Christmas Table - Charles Dickens Museum

Photo: Urban Adventurer

 

 Servants at Doughty Street would have joined the festive spirit too. On your visit at Dickens Museum, you will see how the kitchen would have been decorated with greenery and learn more about the Christmas menu of the servants’.

The upper servants had a meal and a party of their own. The servants’ menu contained beef, veal, turkey, rabbit, and game. – according to English Heritage. Punch and Christmas pudding would have also been served.

 

Festive Events at Dickens Museum

 

Charles Dickens Museum is hosting a number of events during the festive season, including ‘The Housemaid’s Christmas Tour’, ‘A Christmas Carol’ live performance or a fun family event, called ‘Finding Father Christmas’ which is full of clues and puzzles to be solved and will be taken place on 18th December.

 

As Tiny Tim would say:

“A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!”

  

 

Ready for your next adventure? Here are some of the most beautiful festive displays from all over London you might want to take selfie with.