THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - the man who invented Christmas

Rev David Clarke.
Rev David Clarke.

Last week, I had the privilege of a private showing of a newly-released film.

Since that sounds rather exclusive, let me explain.

While others flocked to see latest ‘Star Wars’ film, my wife, daughter and I had Screen 6 at Coleraine’s Jet Centre all to ourselves, as we watched the film, ‘The Man who invented Christmas’.

Charles Dickens didn’t invent Christmas, of course, but the Christmases described in his novels have had a profound influence on how we celebrate the Saviour’s birth. For many, it isn’t Christmas if there is not a screening of the evergreen favourite, ‘It’s a wonderful life’. Likewise, a festive film schedule that does not include some adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol’ would be unthinkable.

The film ‘The man who invented Christmas’ is an attempt to relate how the perennial favourite came to be written. Dickens, who soared to literary prominence while barely thirty, was going through a difficult patch. His most recent novels had not sold well, and he was short of cash. In desperation, he promised his publisher a Christmas ghost story. He had only six weeks to get the manuscript to the printer, in time to ensure publication before the great day.

The film suggests how the vow was fulfilled, and fits in other aspects of Dickens life along the way. Prominent among them was his relationship and rivalry with Thackeray, author of ‘Vanity Fair’. Thackeray’s background was privileged, while Dickens’s was deprived; and Thackeray constantly displayed his sense of superiority. Harsh words were spoken and for years, even when in close physical contact at London clubs, they studiously ignored one another.

How the feud was brought to an end is contested, but it seems that when Thackeray paid a visit to Dickens’s daughter Kate, he remarked: ‘It is ridiculous that your father and I should be placed in a position of enmity towards one another’. Kate urged him, ‘to say a few words. Just try him, Mt. Thackeray, just try him. My father is more shy of speaking than you are.’

Soon afterwards, at the Athenaeum club, as Dickens passed close to Thackeray, ‘without making any sign of recognition’, Thackeray broke off his conversation and reached Dickens just as the latter had his foot on the staircase. Dickens looked round, Thackeray spoke a few words along the lines of ‘we have been enemies long enough’, and held out his hand. They shook hands, and Thackeray returned to his colleagues saying, ‘I’m glad I have done this’.

Another Christmas is upon us. The season reminds us that ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself’(2 Corinthians 5;19). If there is someone to whom you need to be reconciled, gentle reader, use the opportunity this season of goodwill provides. Then you too will be able to say, ‘I’m glad I have done this.’ Have a blessed Christmas.