It would be easy seeing the headline to think I’m turning Ebeneezer-ish on this week prior to the Holiday. You’d be wrong, though.
No . . . Humbug is a person who behaves in a deceptive or dishonest way. That’s according to my good friend Miriam Webster, anyway. In Dickensian terms it’s a fraud or hoax. “More of gravy than grave,” in other words.
I posted something on Rene Syler’s Good Enough Mother on Sunday talking about how you should read aloud to your kids. It’s worth looking at if you want to hear my soapbox exposition, but for now I’ll regale you of the offshoot to that very post.
Every year, you see, there are two books that dominate the lead-up to Christmas in my home. The last few days before Christmas, of course, we simply must read Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. We’ll dutifully watch the cartoon as well.
Over the course of several days – ususally 5-6 of them – we read from a tearing, beat-up, 1900 American edition of Dickens’ Christmas tales. It’s blue, the binding fraying, and we don’t care a whip. It’s the kind of book printed on a real press, the letters and ink thick enough you can run your fingers over the page and feel the letters with your eyes closed. There are things in that turn of the century edition that don’t appear in other more “modernized” renditions that you simply should not remove.
Sure, there are references to saints and holidays that nobody here in the US celebrates (and perhaps never DID celebrate) but that’s neither here nor there.
When the time comes to read from the book my sons will jump – maybe even leap – at the chance. My daughters did in years past, yet they seem bored with it this year.
“We’ve heard it, like, 15 times guys…” is their response this year. That has little change in my demeanor, though.
I take the blue book, open it gently, the spine crackling slightly, and read as the narrator for the open of the book.
“Marley was dead to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.”
“Sheesh,” my son says, one line into Stave one. “That’s a harsh opening.”
“Yes…it is a ghost story, though. You’ll see why in a minute.”
Yet my sons are old enough now, resigned enough to the ritual as well, that they pay attention to the verbage. Perhaps it’s reading A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or other intelligently humorous books, but they catch the sarcastic, droll humor in the book.
“Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade.”
“Well…yeah, what is dead about a doornail,” my soon asks.
About 5 interruptions into the first paragraph I inform them that if we keep stopping after every sentence we’ll be celebrating the 4th of July before we finish the book.
My point, though, is that sneakily, steadily and strangely enough I’ve inserted Charles Dickens in with JK Rowling and Jim Rollins and Eoin Colfer. The boys watched the Bob Zemekis motion-capture movie of A Christmas Carol and have realized, very quickly, that it’s more faithful to the text than most other versions have been.
They also know terms like “ironmongery.”
Reading aloud to my children is something I simultaneously enjoy and wonder in as the kids listen. The boys are 11, the girls 15 and 20 . . . but they still will sound off a line here and there.
“But the Grinch, who lived just North of Whoville . . . did NOT!”
Ghosts, Grinches, Whos and Cratchitts. . . .they all live in our house. It would be easy to say that in the last three years the holidays would be melancholy. The first had its moments, for sure, since we’d just lost their mother a few months prior. But we lived the holidays not in spite of the loss but regardless of it. The holidays didn’t disappear without her. By the same token, I celebrated them before I met her.
So Christmas creeps in . . . along with literature. And we’re all happy to participate.