‘Caroling’ with Dickens

Photo by Lisa Fotios of Pexels.

Great literature, as it becomes widely loved, captures the minds and hearts of people to the degree that it becomes a part of them. And as it endures through time, its readers use every creative outlet to expand the story and own it. Such is the case with the literary classic, A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

‘A Christmas Carol’ on Stage

When I was a little girl, I became enamoured with the play ‘A Christmas Carol’ presented by the Glendale Center Theatre in California.  We attended this yearly play as a family several times before I was 12.  It always had a magical appeal to me, even more than the Christmas gifts I’d receive from Santa.  The memories of that vivid production have stayed with me much longer.

Scrooge is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley

I remember so clearly the eery scene where Jacob Marley appears to Ebeneezer Scrooge, with his initial warning that Scrooge must change his ways.  I was mesmerised by Marley’s glowing face as it appeared on Scrooge’s door.  He appeared in a cutaway garret at the upper corner of the theatre and entered Scrooge’s apartment with his ghostly figure and clanging shackles.  Each of the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future graced the main stage–it was a theatre in the round–with passion and drama. Each was brilliantly dressed and portrayed.  Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim tugged at my heart strings. Fred and Fezziweg imbued cheerfulness! In between scenes, a quartet of Christmas carolers in Victorian hats and muffs sang traditional Christmas carols ‘a capella.’ After the performance we had the opportunity to greet the players with a handshake and a thank you for the Christmas spirit they had provided: the reminder to be generous and good to our fellowmen and women.

As the years have worn on, I’ve not always had the privilege to attend Dicken’s great Christmas play.  But I have often re-read the story to myself or my children from the copy that my husband purchased at the Dickens’ Eastgate House in Rochester, England decades ago.  My BBC-produced film of the story fills-in in the years when work and festivities make life too busy for such literary indulgences.  I hope to get back to the book this year!

Dickens in the Netherlands

I currently live in a nation where English is not the official language. Here in the Netherlands English books and plays are harder to come by.  However, even the Dutch have taken hold of the great Dickensian literary tradition, and made it their own.  For example, the play of ‘A Christmas Carol’ is shown every year in a castle called Muiderslot, just east of Amsterdam.  Despite Corona restrictions, its popularity helped this tradition endure, filling theatres from the Hague to Leiden with audiences spaced 1.5 meters apart.

An even more impressive example of the Dickensian spirit in the Netherlands is the wildly popular Dickens Festival held every year in the Dutch town of Deventer.  Here hundreds of actors in Victorian dress fill the streets, selling themed wares and performing roadside in-character vignettes.  Deventer is known in the Netherlands as the city of books.  Each year thousands of people attend the Dickens Festival, coming in from all over the country.  They wait in long lines, enduring the cold, to enter and experience this holiday tradition.

Deventer at night with the Bergkerk as seen from the Bergstraat

As a matter of background, Deventer is a picturesque little town on the river IJssel, which in the late 15th century was one of the most important cities in the Netherlands for printing.  Today, Deventer is still a significant center for the printing industry, with many printers, publishers, libraries, bookshops and antiquarian bookshops located there.  It’s home to the largest book market in Europe with over 870 stalls covering 6 kilometers!

A good collection of original books by Dickens, as well as memorabilia, is located at the Dickens Kabinet in Deventer.  This small museum contains a great number of books, including a few first editions, prints, costumes and images of Dickens’ characters and a table set with Dickens’ tableware.  In the library of the museum you can find many special publications and clippings about Charles Dickens.  The impressive Dickens collection of Emmy Strik (also a founder of the Dickens Festival) is located here.

Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim from ‘A Christmas Carol’

I’m sure that the large presence of Dickens’ literature and related plays and festivals here is owing somewhat to the fact that the Netherlands lies very near England, with just a two hour ferry-ride in between.  But I think that the greater reason for this occurrence is the universal appeal of Dickens’ work, with ‘A Christmas Carol’ in particular.  As a mad Dickens fan, I can certainly understand why his influence is still great!

Christine Karren is a graphic designer and publisher of books related to European culture and travel. She works with her author-husband Val Karren to create high-quality ‘cultural fiction’ books, blog articles, and videos. Click HERE to see books created by Val and Christine Karren.

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