Charles Dickens invented Christmas.
That is an oft repeated observation; an exaggeration of course, but not that far from the truth. His book A Christmas Carol written in 1843 forever changed the holiday. That story has become a part of the world’s DNA, and has been represented in numerous films, cartoons, and rewritings, frequently of low quality. I’m sure that anyone in America above the age of five has seen some version.
Dickens wrote four other Christmas novellas, which I have referred to in the past. In fact I have made so many references to Christmas, real and literary, that I will be providing a list of links on the twenty-fourth.
There is one more Christmas tale that will appeal to completists. It is part of the Pickwick Papers, but it sometimes appears separately. I present it here because it is somewhat hard to find. You will see that it presages the same themes that Dickens returned to in A Christmas Carol, although Gabriel Grub in this version is meaner than Scrooge, and less warm and fuzzy after his redemption.
I don’t return to this tale often, but I wouldn’t have missed reading it once.
By the way, my post title is accurate, if odd, and designed to pique the interest of search engines. Sorry about that.
The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton
by Charles Dickens
In an old abbey town, down in this part of the country, a long, long while ago – so long, that the story must be a true one, because our great-grandfathers implicitly believed it – there officiated as sexton and grave-digger in the churchyard, one Gabriel Grub. It by no means follows that because a man is a sexton, and constantly surrounded by the emblems of mortality, therefore he should be a morose and melancholy man; your undertakers are the merriest fellows in the world; and I once had the honour of being on intimate terms with a mute, who in private life, and off duty, was as comical and jocose a little fellow as ever chirped out a devil-may-care song, without a hitch in his memory, or drained off a good stiff glass without stopping for breath. But notwithstanding these precedents to the contrary, Gabriel Grub was an ill-conditioned, cross-grained, surly fellow – a morose and lonely man, who consorted with nobody but himself, and an old wicker bottle which fitted into his large deep waistcoat pocket – and who eyed each merry face, as it passed him by, with such a deep scowl of malice and ill-humour, as it was difficult to meet without feeling something the worse for.
A little before twilight, one Christmas Eve, Gabriel shouldered his spade, lighted his lantern, and betook himself towards the old churchyard; for he had got a grave to finish by next morning, and, feeling very low, he thought it might raise his spirits, perhaps, if he went on with his work at once. As he went his way, up the ancient street, he saw the cheerful light of the blazing fires gleam through the old casements, and heard the loud laugh and the cheerful shouts of those who were assembled around them; he marked the bustling preparations for next day’s cheer, and smelled the numerous savoury odours consequent thereupon, as they steamed up from the kitchen windows in clouds. All this was gall and wormwood to the heart of Gabriel Grub; and when groups of children bounded out of the houses, tripped across the road, and were met, before they could knock at the opposite door, by half a dozen curly-headed little rascals who crowded round them as they flocked upstairs to spend the evening in their Christmas games, Gabriel smiled grimly, and clutched the handle of his spade with a firmer grasp, as he thought of measles, scarlet fever, thrush, whooping-cough, and a good many other sources of consolation besides. continued tomorrow