This is the first in a series of posts called “Christmas With Charlie” which will include stories from or about Charlie regarding the Christmas holiday. I will post one each day from now until Christmas. It’s well-known that Charlie was not a fan of Christmas, although he did seem to enjoy the holiday more once he had his own children. But Christmas usually depressed him, which makes it all the more ironic that it would also be the day he died.
I thought an appropriate first installment would be Charlie’s “orange” story. This incident from Charlie’s childhood affected him deeply for the rest of his life. Even as an old man he would tell the story with bitterness. Below is Charlie’s own recollection of the story from his travel memoir A Comedian Sees The World. During a visit to London in 1931, Charlie returned to the orphanage where the incident occurred. Walking into the dining room, Charlie found his place, the third seat at the fourth table, where he sat as a boy, and the memories of a Christmas many years before came flooding back:
How well I remember one Christmas Day sitting on that same seat, weeping copious tears. The day before I had committed some breach of the rules. As we came into the dining-room for Christmas dinner we were to be given two oranges and a bag of sweets.
I remember how excited I was awaiting my turn. How joyous and bright the oranges looked in contrast to the gray surroundings. We never saw oranges but once a year and that was at Christmas. I am speculating what I shall do with mine. I shall save the peel and the sweets I shall eat one a day. Each child is presented with his treasure as he enters the dining-room. At last it is my turn. But the man puts me aside. “Oh, no–you’ll go without for what you did yesterday.” And there, on that seat at the fourth table, I wept bitterly. The children were more human than the attendants were and so the little ones at our table contributed one candy apiece and made up my loss. (Charlie Chaplin, “A Comedian Sees The World, Part I,” A Woman’s Home Companion, September 1933)