I wish to inspire readers, teachers, and book clubs to bake along with their reading and promote discussion about the books we've enjoyed.
“Marley was dead: to begin with” is one of the greatest opening lines of a novel. Ebenezer Scrooge, money and mortgage lender, miserable miser, and wretched soul despises Christmas and anything to do with the happiness he has lost. Then the ghost of his former work partner, Jacob Marley, comes to warn him of the greater sorrows and horrors that await him in the afterlife if he remains unchanged.
Three ghosts visit him: the Past, the Present, and the Future. They remind him of the love and dreams he once had, of the love of family that still remains and he has been neglecting, and they open his eyes to compassion for his employee, Bob Cratchit, and his family—especially a small, weak boy with a huge heart named Tiny Tim.
A Christmas Carol is a classic tale of redemption, hope, appreciation, generosity, and hopefulness. It should sit on every home’s library shelf and be read every year at Christmas time, a reminder of the hope and joys of the season that can accompany a grateful, kind heart.
- Scrooge’s fireplace in his room was "paved all round with quaint Dutch tiles, designed to demonstrate the Scriptures. There had been Cains and Abels, Pharaoh's daughters, Queens of Sheba, Angelic messengers descending through the air on clouds like feather beds, Abrahams, Belshazzars, Apostles getting rid of to sea in boats". What is this foreshadowing?
- What were the strange signs in the house Scrooge saw before Marley’s appearance?
- Why do you think Scrooge "remembered to have heard that ghosts in haunted houses were defined as dragging chains"?
- What was on Marley’s chains, or what were they made up of? Why were these appropriate?
- Why do spirits walk the earth in this story and why did they go to Scrooge, especially why did Marley?
- Why did Scrooge make jokes and snarky remarks to Marley’s ghost; what was he attempting to distract himself from?
- When was Scrooge to expect the ghosts to visit him? Why not all at once?
- What was the punishment and torment of Marley and others like him? Why?
- How was the appearance of each of the ghosts described? Do you think the complexity of the look of the ghost of Christmas past is why no movie versions have ever had a very accurate portrayal of it? Which do you think is most accurate?
- Why did Scrooge “rejoice at all bounds” and “filled with gladness” when he saw his childhood schoolmates or the places where he had played as a boy? Would seeing the places where you played as a child create the same reaction in you?
- How did Fezziwig, or any boss, have “the power to render us [their employees or subordinates] happy or unhappy, to make our service light or burdensome, a pleasure or a toil”? How can this thought help us to not be burdensome taskmasters to those who serve us, or to our children?
- What idol displaced Belle? Why? Did she do the right thing for each of them in releasing him from his promise?
- What did the Ghost of Christmas Present mean when he said: “There are some upon this earth of yours...who claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us, and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us”?
- Why do you think Tiny Tim thought it might be pleasant for “the people [who] saw him in church, because he was a cripple . . . to remember, upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see”?
- What was the Ghost of Christmas Present’s prediction about Tiny Tim and why did this bother Scrooge so much, especially when his own words were quoted back to him about decreasing the population?
- With all his wealth, how was it that Scrooge was still so miserable, and yet Bob Cratchit’s family, though “not a handsome family, they were not well dressed, their shoes were far from being waterproof, their clothes were scanty...But they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contended with the time”?
- The book Peter, Bob’s son, was reading in the Christmas future scene, when the family was awaiting Bob’s return from Tim’s grave, quoted a verse: Mark 9:36. Why do you think Dickens chose to have Peter reading that verse at that time, especially considering Tiny Tim’s “death”?
- What things showed by the ghost of Christmas future actually came to pass, and why?
- In what ways did Scrooge change, and what did he do for others?
- How is this story one of redemption?
Recipe: Christmas Citrus Spice Cupcake With Lemon and Orange Frosting
A “curiously heavy cake” was served at Fezziwig’s party, as well as negus, a punch made with port wine, oranges, lemons, and spices including cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove.
At the feast sitting before the ghost of Christmas present in Ebenezer’s house, there were, among many other things, “juicy oranges . . . immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch.” Twelfth night cakes customarily contain candied orange or lemon peel, as well as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and mace. Raisins are another option in this cake.
In the grocers’ on Christmas day, there were also delicious displays of “yellow oranges and lemons, in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner.”
To create a copy of an authentic Christmas cake from this time period, I made a citrus spice cupcake with lemon and orange frosting.
For the cupcakes:
- 1/2 stick / 4 tbsp / 1/4 cup salted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- Zest and juice of 1 large orange, separated
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon, separated
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 tsp pie spice, optional recipe below
- 1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
For the frosting:
- 1 1/2 sticks / 3/4 cup / 12 tbsp salted butter, at room temperature
- Zest 1 large orange
- Zest 1 lemon
- 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon or pie spice
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 tsp orange juice
DIY Pie Spice
To make your own custom pie spice, combine the following ingredients:
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp cardamom (optional)
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- Preheat your oven to 325°F. In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium-high speed, cream together the butter, sugar, lemon zest from 1 lemon and orange zest from 1 orange for 2 minutes. Drop the mixer to medium, add the juice from each of the one lemon and one orange, sour cream, and mix for 1 to 2 minutes until creamy.
- In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and powder, and the spices. Drop the mixer to low and slowly add the dry ingredients, about 1/3 to half of the bowl at a time. When all are combined, add the eggs, one at a time, just until fully combined.
- Line a cupcake tin with paper liners and scoop cupcake batter into each until about 2/3 full. I like using a large ice cream scoop or 1/4 cup measuring scoop. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes until you can insert a toothpick in the center of the largest cupcake and it comes out clean.
- Cool for 15 minutes before frosting, preferably outside of the tin (but wait until they have cooled at least 5 to 10 minutes before trying to remove them from a hot tin).
- For the frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the soft butter with the zest of 1 orange and of 1 lemon on medium-high speed for 1 minute. Stop the mixer, add half the powdered sugar, the cinnamon or pie spice, and the juice, and mix on low first for 1 minute, then increase to medium for 1 more minute. Stop it again and add the rest of the powdered sugar. Mix on low for 1 minute, then medium for 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the insides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then increase to medium-high for 1 minute, after the powder seems to have disappeared. Pipe onto cooled (at least 15 minutes) cupcakes. I used an XL star tip for these. Makes about 14-16 frosted cupcakes.
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- Other Christmas stories by Charles Dickens: “The Chimes,” “The Cricket on the Hearth,” “The Battle of Life,” “The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain,” “A Christmas Tree,” “The Poor Relation's Story,” “The Child's Story,” “The Schoolboy's Story,” “The Holly-Tree,” and more.
- Other books by Charles Dickens: The masterful tale of redemption Great Expectations, and the novels Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities.
- Books mentioned within this book as having been read by Scrooge in childhood: Robinson Crusoe and Arabian Nights.
- Other Christmas stories with a moral: The also-classic Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss, and Christmas Day in the Morning: Awakening the Joy of Christmas by Pearl S. Buck.
- "Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever, about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it; and Scrooge's name was good upon 'change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.”
- "Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!"
- "...he tried to be clever, as a method of distracting his own interest, and retaining down his terror, for the spectre’s voice disturbed the very marrow in his bones.”
- “Man of the unholy mind, do you trust in me or not?”
- “I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”
- “...any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness! Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for life’s opportunities misused!”
- “Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode?”
- “The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power forever.”
- “He [Fezziwig, or a boss] has the power to render us happy or unhappy, to make our service light or burdensome, a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks, in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count them up…”
- “You fear the world too much. All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler passions fall off one by one, until the master passion, Gain, engrosses you.”
- “But soon the steeples called good people all to church and chapel, and away they came, flocking through the streets in their best clothes, and with their gayest faces.”
- “‘There are some upon this earth of yours,’ returned the Spirit, ‘who claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us, and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.’”
- “He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember, upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”
- “O...to hear the insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”
- “They were not a handsome family, they were not well dressed, their shoes were far from being waterproof, their clothes were scanty...But they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contended with the time.”
- "God bless us, every one."
© 2020 Amanda Lorenzo