Saturday, December 18, 2010

Unit Study: Dickens and Weeks 2 and 3

Last week we read the second Christmas novel penned by Dickens:  The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New One In.  This is a beautiful ghost story, with echoes of his A Christmas Carol, with the themes of love and family and charity.  It's a particularly interesting read for those of us who don't see government programs for the poor as the solution -- Dickens would definitely be in our camp.  This is really a good read and the enjoyed it and understood the point!  Dickens' writing is so fun to read aloud.

We also learned more about the history of Christmas, with a particular emphasis on the Victorian/Dickensian celebrations.  We watched Christmas Unwrapped: The History of Christmas , which is an interesting DVD that describes the history of Christmas since pre-Christian days through to today.  This video includes descriptions of the major influences on current practices (especially important for our study:  Prince Albert's bringing the tree from Germany, Christmas Cards in Britain and Dickens' influence on "traditional" celebrations.) Note: this is a very secular look with only a nodding reference to Christ!

Another resource we used was the book, The Man Who Invented Christmas, by Les Standiford. I read the book for background information but then read-aloud the end of Chapter 14 and all of Chapter 15 which describes Dickens' influence on Victorian Christmas from food to decorations and activities.  The book quickly points out that Dickens was anti-organized religion so his books and writings don't include any reference to the theological side of Christmas but rather the spirit of the holidays -- charity and love for all.

The 28th chapter of Dickens' Pickwick Papers gives a wonderful description of the reveling of a wealthy folks over a Christmas weekend.  Pickwick and his friends jump right into the revelries with dancing and eating and drinking Christmas wishes at midnight!

This week we read the third Charles Dickens Christmas novel: The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home.  The Dickens version is NOT to be confused with "the original TV classic" done in 1967 and using the voices of Danny Thomas, Marlo Thomas and Roddy McDowall.  The video (which we borrowed from the library and wasted an hour watching) is also called "Cricket on the Hearth" but has very little to do with the original story.  If you can, get the book!

One thing we've been doing while I read these books to the children is having them working on Christmas crafts:  individual nativity sets (started on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, with our baby Jesus figures blessed at Mass on the 3rd Sunday of Advent -- I'll post pictures of the finished sets), ornaments and Christmas gifts for family and friends.  The crafting element has been a wonderfully fulfilling time for the kids this year -- I think  they're just the right ages to really enjoy the hand-work and their items are beautiful.

Next week we'll be reading The Battle of Life: A Love Story and finish Dickens' Christmas novels during Christmas week by reading The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain: A Fancy for Christmas Time.

Enjoy your last week of Advent!  We sure are having a wonderfully creative and active Advent ...


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