Pudding on the style

4th December 1998 at 00:00
It's a Victorian Christmas - joyful family complete with small child on crutches, succulent, steaming viands, toys and festive holly. But why did the illustrator C E Brock, born in 1870, make it look like this? In 1843, Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" had taken Britain by storm - and more or less invented Christmas. Tiny Tim, infant "crippled" son of Bob Cratchit, whose Yuletide is first ruined and then magnificently transformed by reformed miser Scrooge, became an emblem of charity in the cruel cold of winter. In a stream of Christmas stories thereafter, Dickens embroidered his themes of joyful reunion, abundant feasting and giving, so much so that when he died in 1870, a London street-seller wondered: "Will Father Christmas die too?" Tiny Tim's catchphrase: "God bless us, everyone," was broadcast in the Christmas greetings cards that also became popular in the 1840s. Card motifs such as Father Christmas-figures with sacks of presents, snow, robins, wreaths of evergreen and candles, all feature in the illustrations to "A Christmas Carol".

Since Roman times, holly had been used to deck homes at midwinter. In 1840, German Prince Albert married Queen Victoria, and brought the Christmas tree with him. Fir trees hung with apples had been used in Germany since the 16th century to symbolise the Garden of Eden; other ornaments, such as candles to symbolise the light of Christ, figurines and stars for the Christmas journey, and biscuits to represent the wafer of Holy Communion, were added over the years.

And after the tree, the presents - not just an apple or orange or a new coat for the winter, but bulging sacks of toys from the thundering factories of industrialised Britain.

Nowadays, most retailers make half their profits in the run-up to Christmas - truly a case of "God bless us, everyone".



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