The English-Speaking Union

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Wednesday, December 13, 2023 at 5 PM (ET) 

The Dark Secret Behind Charles Dickens' Christmas Tales with Andrew Halls

Sponsored by the ESU Cleveland Branch

When Charles Dickens died, a child famously asked if this meant Father Christmas would die, too. Such was the power of Dickens' grip on the popular imagination, the Christmas season almost seemed his own creation. Dickens inspired millions with visions of a glowing, holly-strewn celebration, rich in sentiment and good cheer, underpinned by recurrent themes of memory, loss and redemption.  These Christmas tales held secrets, dark secrets, personal to their author, too. In this talk, Andrew Halls explores Dickens' Christmas Books and Christmas Stories, showing that some of the most beloved tales of 19th century England and America contain unsettling insights into the mind, motives, and desires of one of the most popular, most known - and yet most hidden - novelists in history. This ESU Happy Hour is sponsored by the Cleveland Branch. ESU Happy Hour programs are online, free, and open to all members and the public. Registration is required. Please click here to register:

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Andew Halls, OBE, Ma was Headmaster (Principal) of King's College School, Wimbledon, from January 2008 until April 2021, and previously Master (Principal) of Magdalen College School, Oxford, from 1998. In each case, the school became during his tenure the leading boys' or co-ed school in the UK, heading academic league tables. Halls remains the only headteacher to win the title of Sunday Times school of the year at two different schools.

Halls read English at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and achieved a double first. He is currently Honorary Principal of King's College School, Bangkok, and the director of an educational charity supporting children from poorer homes. His interests include researching the life and works of Charles Dickens and he has given many lectures on this theme, most recently as the prestigious Evelyn Wrench speaker for The English-Speaking Union, presenting lectures on Dickens in four American cities including New York and Memphis.

Charles Dickens' Punch

Yields 8 cups


  • 3/4 cup demerara sugar
  • 3 lemons
  • 2 cups rum (Smith & Cross works well, or Stiggins's Pineapple Rum, if you want a nod to Dickens's first novel, The Pickwick Papers)
  • 1 1/4 cups cognac (preferably Courvoisier VSOP)
  • 5 cups hot water
  • Lemon and orange wheels, for garnish
  • Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish


  1. Peel the lemons and set aside the fruit. In a heatproof bowl or Dutch oven, combine the sugar and lemon peels and mix together. Set aside for 20–30 minutes for the citrus oils to release.
  2. Add the rum and cognac to the bowl. Use a heatproof spoon to pick up some of the mixture, then light the spoonful aflame and bring it into contact with the rest of the contents of the bowl. After allowing it to burn for about three to four minutes, cover to extinguish.
  3. Add hot tea or hot water, then squeeze in the juice of the lemons and cover. Let sit for five minutes, then uncover and garnish with citrus wheels and grated nutmeg. Ladle into glasses.