THE CRATCHITS' CHRISTMAS DINNER
By Charles Dickens
Scrooge stood with the Ghost of Christmas Present in the city streets
on Christmas morning, where (for the weather was severe) the people
made a rough, but brisk and not unpleasant kind of music, in scraping
the snow from the pavement in front of their dwellings, and from the
tops of their houses: whence it was mad delight to the boys to see it
come plumping down into the road below, and splitting into artificial
The house fronts looked black enough, and the windows blacker,
contrasting with the smooth white sheet of snow upon the roofs, and
with the dirtier snow upon the ground; which last deposit had been
plowed up in deep furrows by the heavy wheels of carts and wagons;
furrows that crossed and recrossed each other hundreds of times where
the great streets branched off, and made intricate channels, hard to
trace, in the thick yellow mud and icy water. The sky was gloomy, and
the shortest streets were choked up with a dingy mist, half thawed
half frozen, whose heavier particles descended in a shower of sooty
atoms, as if all the chimneys in Great Britain had, by one consent,
caught fire, and were blazing away to their dear hearts' content.
There was nothing very cheerful in the climate or the town, and yet
was there an air of cheerfulness abroad that the clearest summer air
and brightest summer sun might have endeavored to diffuse in vain.
For, the people who were shovelling away on the house-tops were jovial
and full of glee; calling out to one another from the parapets, and
now and then exchanging a facetious snowball—better-natured missile
far than many a wordy jest—laughing heartily if it went right and not
less heartily if it went wrong. The poulterers' shops were still half
open, and the fruiterers' were radiant in their glory. There were
great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the
waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling
out into the street in their apoplectic opulence. There were ruddy,
brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish onions, shining in the fatness of
their growth like Spanish friars; and winking from their shelves in
wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced demurely
at the hung-up mistletoe. There were pears and apples, clustered high
in blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made, in the
shopkeepers' benevolence, to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that
people's mouths might water gratis as they passed; there were piles of
filberts, mossy and brown, recalling, in their fragrance, ancient
walks among the woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle-deep through
withered leaves; there were Norfolk Biffins, squab, and swarthy,
setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in the great
compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching
to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner. The very gold
and silver fish, set forth among these choice fruits in a bowl, though
members of a dull and stagnant-blooded race, appeared to know that
there was something going on; and, to a fish, went gasping round and
round their little world in slow and passionless excitement.
The grocers'! oh, the grocers'! nearly closed, with perhaps two
shutters down, or one; but through those gaps such glimpses! It was
not alone that the scales descending on the counter made a merry
sound, or that the twine and roller parted company so briskly, or that
the canisters were rattled up and down like juggling tricks, or even
that the blended scents of tea and coffee were so grateful to the
nose, or even that the raisins were so plentiful and rare, the almonds
so extremely white, the sticks of cinnamon so long and straight, the
other spices so delicious, the candied fruits so caked and spotted
with molten sugar as to make the coldest lookers-on feel faint and
subsequently bilious. Nor was it that the figs were moist and pulpy,
or that the French plums blushed in modest tartness from their
highly-decorated boxes, or that everything was good to eat and in its
Christmas dress: but the customers were all so hurried and so eager in
the hopeful promise of the day, that they tumbled up against each
other at the door, clashing their wicker baskets wildly, and left
their purchases upon the counter, and came running back to fetch them,
and committed hundreds of the like mistakes in the best humor
possible; while the grocer and his people were so frank and fresh that
the polished hearts with which they fastened their aprons behind might
have been their own, worn outside for general inspection, and for
Christmas daws to peck at if they chose.
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. And at the same time there
emerged from scores of by-streets, lanes, and nameless turnings,
innumerable people, carrying their dinners to the bakers' shops. The
sight of these poor revellers appeared to interest the Spirit very
much, for he stood with Scrooge beside him in a baker's doorway, and
taking off the covers as their bearers passed, sprinkled incense on
their dinners from his torch. And it was a very uncommon kind of
torch, for once or twice when there were angry words between some
dinner-carriers who had jostled with each other, he shed a few drops
of water on them from it, and their good humor was restored directly.
For they said, it was a shame to quarrel upon Christmas Day. And so it
was! God love it, so it was!
In time the bells ceased, and the bakers' were shut up; and yet there
was a genial shadowing forth of all these dinners and the progress of
their cooking, in the thawed blotch of wet above each baker's oven;
where the pavements smoked as if its stones were cooking too.
"Is there a peculiar flavor in what you sprinkle from your torch?"
"There is. My own."
"Would it apply to any kind of dinner on this day?" asked Scrooge.
"To any kindly given. To a poor one most."
"Why to a poor one most?" asked Scrooge.
"Because it needs it most."
"Spirit," said Scrooge, after a moment's thought, "I wonder you, of
all the beings in the many worlds about us, should desire to cramp
these people's opportunities of innocent enjoyment."
"I!" cried the Spirit.
"You would deprive them of their means of dining every seventh day,
often the only day on which they can be said to dine at all," said
Scrooge. "Wouldn't you?"
"I!" cried the Spirit.
"You seek to close these places on the Seventh Day?" said Scrooge.
"And it comes to the same thing."
"I seek!" exclaimed the Spirit.
"Forgive me if I am wrong. It has been done in your name, or at least
in that of your family," said Scrooge.
"There are some upon this earth of yours," returned the Spirit, "who
lay 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."
Scrooge promised that he would; and they went on, invisible, as they
had been before, into the suburbs of the town. It was a remarkable
quality of the Ghost (which Scrooge had observed at the baker's), that
notwithstanding his gigantic size, he could accommodate himself to any
place with ease; and that he stood beneath a low roof quite as
gracefully and like a supernatural creature, as it was possible he
could have done in any lofty hall.
And perhaps it was the pleasure the good Spirit had in showing off
this power of his, or else it was his own kind, generous, hearty
nature, and his sympathy with all poor men, that led him straight to
Scrooge's clerk's; for there he went, and took Scrooge with him,
holding to his robe; and on the threshold of the door the Spirit
smiled, and stopped to bless Bob Cratchit's dwelling with the
sprinklings of his torch. Think of that! Bob had but fifteen "Bob" a
week himself; he pocketed on Saturdays but fifteen copies of his
Christian name; and yet the Ghost of Christmas Present blessed his
Then up rose Mrs. Cratchit, Cratchit's wife, dressed out but poorly in
a twice-turned gown, but brave in ribbons, which are cheap and make a
goodly show for sixpence; and she laid the cloth, assisted by Belinda
Cratchit, second of her daughters, also brave in ribbons; while Master
Peter Cratchit plunged a fork into the saucepan of potatoes, and
getting the corners of his monstrous shirt collar (Bob's private
property, conferred upon his son and heir in honor of the day) into
his mouth, rejoiced to find himself so gallantly attired, and yearned
to show his linen in the fashionable parks. And now two smaller
Cratchits, boy and girl, came tearing in, screaming that outside the
baker's they had smelled the goose, and known it for their own; and
basking in luxurious thoughts of sage-and-onion, these young Cratchits
danced about the table, and exalted Master Peter Cratchit to the
skies, while he (not proud, although his collars nearly choked him)
blew the fire, until the slow potatoes bubbling up, knocked loudly at
the saucepan-lid to be let out and peeled.
"What has ever got your precious father then?" said Mrs. Cratchit.
"And your brother, Tiny Tim! And Martha warn't as late last Christmas
Day by half-an-hour!"
"Here's Martha, mother!" said a girl, appearing as she spoke.
"Here's Martha, mother!" cried the two young Cratchits. "Hurrah!
There's such a goose, Martha!"
"Why, bless your heart alive, my dear, how late you are!" said Mrs.
Cratchit, kissing her a dozen times, and taking off her shawl and
bonnet for her with officious zeal.
"We'd a deal of work to finish up last night," replied the girl, "and
had to clear away this morning, mother!"
"Well! Never mind so long as you are come," said Mrs. Cratchit. "Sit
ye down before the fire, my dear, and have a warm, Lord bless ye!"
"No, no! There's father coming," cried the two young Cratchits, who
were everywhere at once. "Hide, Martha, hide!"
So Martha hid herself, and in came little Bob, the father, with at
least three feet of comforter, exclusive of the fringe, hanging down
before him; and his threadbare clothes darned up and brushed, to look
seasonable; and Tiny Tim upon his shoulder. Alas for Tiny Tim, he bore
a little crutch, and had his limbs supported by an iron frame!
"Why, where's our Martha?" cried Bob Cratchit, looking round.
"Not coming," said Mrs. Cratchit.
"Not coming!" said Bob, with a sudden declension in his high spirits;
for he had been Tim's blood horse all the way from church, and had
come home rampant. "Not coming upon Christmas Day!"
Martha didn't like to see him disappointed, if it were only in joke;
so she came out prematurely from behind the closet door, and ran into
his arms, while the two young Cratchits hustled Tiny Tim, and bore him
off into the wash-house, that he might hear the pudding singing in the
"And how did little Tim behave?" asked Mrs. Cratchit, when she had
rallied Bob on his credulity, and Bob had hugged his daughter to his
"As good as gold," said Bob, "and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful,
sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever
heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in
the 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
Bob's voice was tremulous when he told them this, and trembled more
when he said that Tiny Tim was growing strong and hearty.
His active little crutch was heard upon the floor, and back came Tiny
Tim before another word was spoken, escorted by his brother and sister
to his stool before the fire; and while Bob, turning up his cuffs—as
if, poor fellow, they were capable of being made more shabby—compounded
some hot mixture in a jug with gin and lemons, and stirred it round
and round and put it on the hob to simmer; Master Peter, and the two
ubiquitous young Cratchits went to fetch the goose, with which they
soon returned in high procession.
Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of
all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter
of course—and in truth it was something very like it in that house.
Mrs. Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan)
hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigor;
Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot
plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table;
the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting
themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into
their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came
to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It
was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs. Cratchit, looking slowly
all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but
when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued
forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny
Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the
handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!
There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn't believe there ever
was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavor, size and
cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by the
apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the
whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight
(surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn't ate it
all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the younger Cratchits
in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows! But
now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs. Cratchit left the
room alone—too nervous to bear witness—to take the pudding up and
bring it in.
Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose it should break in
turning out! Suppose somebody should have got over the wall of the
backyard, and stolen it, while they were merry with the goose—a
supposition at which the two young Cratchits became livid! All sorts
of horrors were supposed.
Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A
smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an
eating-house and a pastrycook's next door to each other, with a
laundress's next door to that! That was the pudding! In half a minute
Mrs. Cratchit entered—flushed, but smiling proudly—with the pudding,
like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of
half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly
stuck into the top.
Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he
regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since
their marriage. Mrs. Cratchit said that now the weight was off her
mind, she would confess she had had her doubts about the quantity of
flour. Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or
thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would
have been flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit would have blushed to
hint at such a thing.
At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth
swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted, and
considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a
shovelful of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Cratchit family drew
round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, meaning half a
one; and at Bob Cratchit's elbow stood the family display of glass.
Two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.
These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden
goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with beaming looks,
while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and cracked noisily. Then
"A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!"
Which all the family re-echoed.
"God bless us every one!" said Tiny Tim, the last of all.