Tag Archives: holiday

How a Dickensian Christmas Can Boost the Spirits of Those of Us Living in 2020

When you think of the word “Dickensian” what comes to mind? We would not be surprised if you mentioned soot-covered children working in factories, or angry adults beating each other down with vicious words and persnickety actions. Then again… what comes to mind if we say “Dickensian Christmas”? I’ll bet an entirely different view comes to mind. Perhaps you see a warm and cozy drawing room, children playing by a large fire, adults jolly and laughing over punch with a large tree in the corner and candles lit on its branches. Sound familiar? Well it isn’t an accident. There is an old story (a myth, if you will) that on the day Dickens died, as the news was ravaging through the streets of London, a small costermonger’s daughter said with dawning horror, “Mr. Dickens is dead? Then will Father Christmas die too?” Whether this story is based in reality or not, the feeling still remains… Dickens is a name commonly associated with the holidays the world over. We’d like to examine why that is and what we can learn from it this particular holiday season.


We have published several blogs before reviewing Dickens’ childhood experiences, and the traumas he endured as a youth. Being one of the unwashed and poor factory children we associate with the word “Dickensian” was what led him to spend his life working with social reform to aid the poor and undervalued members of society. How then did he become so widely associated with the holiday that a poor vegetable seller’s daughter thought his death might mean the end of Christmas forever? For Dickens, it was easy. His childhood made him never want to experience such a Christmas again. He gravitated towards positivity, light and joy – and made sure to share it with those around him. Christmas in the Dickens household (when Charles was a father himself) was legendary. He would perform magic tricks for his friends, the table would be set elaborately, his wife would make and/or supervise the making of all manner of foods, they would have a warm fire and sing/perform together… Dickens made for himself and his family the Christmas he wished for as a child.


dickensBefore Dickens published A Christmas Carol (written in only a six short weeks, and published the week before Christmas at considerable expense to Mr. Dickens), he and his wife Catherine were experiencing your average hardships. They were expecting their fifth child, and supplications of money from his aging father and family, with dwindling sales from his previous works had put him into a tough financial place. In the fall of 1843, a 31-year-old Dickens was asked to deliver a speech in Manchester, supporting adult education for manufacturing workers there. His extreme interest in the subject (one that hit a bit too close to home, I believe) and his resolve to aid the lowly pushed an idea to the forefront of his mind – a speech can only do so much… to get to the crux of the matter he would need to get into the hearts, minds and homes of his readership and country. As the idea for A Christmas Carol took shape and his writings began, Dickens himself became utterly obsessed with his own story. As his friend John Forster remarked, Dickens “wept and laughed, and wept again’ and that he ‘walked about the black streets of London fifteen or twenty miles many a night when all sober folks had gone to bed” while writing it. Dickens took the financial hit publishing it on his own, in a beautiful cloth bound book with gilt leaf edging, and colorful illustrations by John Leech.


The book became an instant sensation, and this book – celebrating the joy, kindness and positivity possible in humans, not to mention the ability to change for the better – did even better than Dickens could have imagined. It transformed into a handbook, of sorts – how to live a successful, kind life, both in the holiday season and beyond.


So what can we here in 2020 take away from A Christmas Carol and Dickens’ obsessive love of the holiday? Well, the first thing might be to embrace the warmth of home. With all the griping about the hell that 2020 has put us through, and the harsh realities of staying home for months and months, staying away from friends, not being able to eat out or travel… perhaps one last push of 2020 can be for us all to embrace what we have right in front of us – a roof over our heads, a fire (or a heater), and good food. I realize that in past years (and in A Christmas Carol, of course) we might have not only embraced the love we could find in our own households, but invited others to experience it as well. Perhaps in 2020 the time has come to focus more of our attention on those in our immediate household. Shower them with as much love and kindness as we would use for all of those around us.


Similar to how Dickens and his family celebrated, decorate as festively and as cozily as you so choose – don’t let a lack of visitors deter you from putting together a beautiful tree, or hanging a wreath on your door. Pass the longer evenings with a great book and a hot drink, or perhaps do as Dickens did and allow your creativity to flourish. Finally take the time to write that story you’ve been meaning to, or put together a skit for your family to act out on Christmas morning. As Dickens probably did, send your letters off to far away family and friends with your love, and perhaps a gift or two… the real gift, of course, being that your thoughts are with them, even when you cannot be. For those that do not celebrate the holiday of Christmas, we say the same endearments hold true… enjoy the winter season with your immediate family, decorate however you choose, drink warm hot toddies and allow the candlelight to spark your creativity. Whatever you do… don’t allow yourself to forget the main take-away of A Christmas Carol. Be caring, giving, and loving to all of those around you, value their lives as you value your own. Only then will you truly find the spirit of Christmas inside of you!


Safe and Happy Holidays to All


Braving Rush Hour to Feed my Holiday Bibliophilia


By Margueritte Peterson

Click, clack, click, clack… are these the sounds of the keys on my keyboard puncturing this blank document with letters as I write this? Maybe. Was it also the sound my heels made as they climbed the steps of the Berkeley City Club last night for the annual holiday dinner & raffle of the Northern California Chapter of the ABAA? Most definitely. That’s right, ladies and gents! Another year has passed us by and last night saw the usual cast of characters (minus a few) sharing cocktails, laughs and bottles of Single Malt Scotch Whiskey (for the raffle, of course… we aren’t alcoholics!) at a beautiful local venue.

Michael Hackenberg and his Raffle Surprise!

Michael Hackenberg and his Raffle Surprise!

The night started out promising enough, as Kate Mitas, Vic’s Aide-de-Camp, and I braved rush-hour East Bay traffic for over half an hour to get to Durant Avenue. We then parked in a lot I know well only to be accosted for $8 by what I originally assumed was a homeless person trying to make a buck (not a bad idea, when you think about it). A glass of red wine later and we were sitting at the back table, watching booksellers all around us enjoy an evening with friends, spouses and colleagues. Michael Hackenberg, Chair of the NCC, hustled all (rather well, I might add, as only Michael can do) for the purchase of raffle tickets, and then introduced the new board of the NCC. Himself returning as Chair and Steve Blackmer continuing on as Treasurer, we have the honor of welcoming two new members to the board! Scott Brown of Eureka Books joins as Vice Chair and Alexander Akin of Bolerium Books as Secretary.

After hearing from the current Chair and Steve as Treasurer, current Vice Chair Vic Zoschak gave some words on some recent goings-on in the ABAA. One of which was this – at the recent Boston ABAA fair, the ABAA partnered with RBS to offer an educational seminar. It was attended by 44 people in all, 9 of which were booksellers (3 from Northern California alone!). The session was opened by intrepid president of the ABAA Tom Goldwasser and President of RBS, Michael Suarez. The seminar was very successful and there are hopes that it will be repeated in the future!

Enjoying salmon and missing out on eggplant!

Missing out on eggplant!

After hearing from all parties, the meal continued! While a couple of us from Tavistock Books enjoyed a delicious roasted eggplant & polenta dinner (and another at Tavistock Books deemed it an alien life form and ate his usual salmon dinner), we exchanged pleasant dinner conversation with Rachel Eley, an associate at John Windle Antiquarian Bookseller (and an Associate Member of the ABAA herself) and her colleague Annika Green. As desert appeared on the tables I was suddenly thrust into the position of raffle item presenter (thanks a heap, Vic), and decided then and there that I should probably never apply for a position on a game show, no matter how low on cash I am! (I don’t think that game show hosts like it when the raffle presenter holds a bottle and when asked what it is retorts with “…it’s alcohol…”). In any event, the raffle each year is held to benefit the Elisabeth Woodburn Educational Fund which provides educational scholarships to booksellers (a great opportunity, of which a handful of booksellers in Northern California have been able to take advantage of to further their knowledge of the bookselling world!).

All in all, it was a pretty tame evening (compared to some other bookseller events I have been to over the last few years) but any night with books, wine and bibliophilia is a great night in our eyes! The holiday season has now officially begun!

Yours truly, Vic Zoschak & Kate Mitas of Tavistock Books!

Yours truly, Vic Zoschak & Kate Mitas of Tavistock Books!