By Edward G. Pettit
The conviviality of the Dickensian world is nowhere more apparent than in Dickens’s Christmas books and stories. From Mr Pickwick celebrating at Dingley Dell to Scrooge offering Bob Cratchit a talk over a bowl of smoking bishop, Dickens knew that Christmas “was the season of hospitality, merriment, and open-heartedness.” Dickens himself always celebrated the holiday with feasting, games and a brimming bowl of wassail punch. Join us as we ring out the Bicentenary Year of Dickens by toasting the Inimitable Boz at his favorite time of the year at our final Drinking with Dickens event.
Years before the Cratchit Family was hip-hip hooraying their Christmas goose and pudding, Dickens had written about the Christmas that Mr Pickwick and his friends celebrated at Dingley Dell. They feasted and danced and told stories and drank many a bowl of punch. From Chapter 28 of The Pickwick Papers:
'This,' said Mr. Pickwick, looking round him, 'this is, indeed, comfort.' 'Our invariable custom,' replied Mr. Wardle. 'Everybody sits down with us on Christmas Eve, as you see them now—servants and all; and here we wait, until the clock strikes twelve, to usher Christmas in, and beguile the time with forfeits and old stories. Trundle, my boy, rake up the fire.'
Up flew the bright sparks in myriads as the logs were stirred. The deep red blaze sent forth a rich glow, that penetrated into the farthest corner of the room, and cast its cheerful tint on every face.
'Come,' said Wardle, 'a song—a Christmas song! I'll give you one, in default of a better.'
'Bravo!' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Fill up,' cried Wardle. 'It will be two hours, good, before you see the bottom of the bowl through the deep rich colour of the wassail; fill up all round, and now for the song.'
Thus saying, the merry old gentleman, in a good, round, sturdy voice, commenced without more ado—
My song I troll out, for Christmas Stout,
The hearty, the true, and the bold;
A bumper I drain, and with might and main
Give three cheers for this Christmas old!
We'll usher him in with a merry din
That shall gladden his joyous heart,
And we'll keep him up, while there's bite or sup,
And in fellowship good, we'll part.
In his fine honest pride, he scorns to hide
One jot of his hard-weather scars;
They're no disgrace, for there's much the same trace
On the cheeks of our bravest tars.
Then again I sing till the roof doth ring
And it echoes from wall to wall—
To the stout old wight, fair welcome to-night,
As the King of the Seasons all!'
This song was tumultuously applauded—for friends and dependents make a capital audience—and the poor relations, especially, were in perfect ecstasies of rapture. Again was the fire replenished, and again went the wassail round.
A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to one and all. May you never be boiled in your own puddings with a stake of holly through your hearts!
Rare Book Department,
Year of Dickens