It’s just a few days until Christmas, and Wales is beautifully cold and icy, with snow on the hills and small flurries of snowflakes adding to the atmospheric end of term feeling. Tomorrow evening I break up for the holidays, and have decided to make my last blog post of the university term festive in theme, by talking about some of my favourite literary Christmases.
One of my all time favourite Christmases as a child was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Christmas in Little House in the Prairie (luckily we didn’t have a telly, so the fantastic books were not ruined for me by the saccharine tv series). I think my mum must have very cleverly encouraged us to read about this Christmas so that in comparison, our own presents seemed plentiful!
In Little House on the Prairie, the blizzards on the American plains where Laura lives with her pioneer family are so bad, that Laura and her sister Mary fear Father Christmas will not be able to cross the creek. Laura falls asleep listening to her parents talking about the stockings they have hung over the fireplace, and whispering about using the last of the sugar for gifts. But in the morning, a visitor arrives, their distant neighbour Mr Edwards, who has been all the way to town in the blizzard to meet Father Christmas and get Laura and Mary’s presents, and swum across the wild creek with their gifts. When Laura and Mary check their stockings, they find a tin mug and a stick of candy each, plus a flour cake covered in sugar, AND a coin. They are overwhelmed at this multitude of gifts. I think this is a great story to read to children at Christmas, and it remains one of my personal favourites.
One of my other favourite Christmases is a classic which is probably on many lists; Christmas in Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, a book which famously begins: “‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo”, and is, once again, an account of a fairly poor Christmas, and a reminder of the importance of family, and love and helping others, as the four sisters in the story decide to share their meagre gifts with people poorer than themselves. Incidentally, Little Women’s main character, the feisty, flawed and storytelling Jo is one of my all time favourite fictional female characters!
Moving from America to the UK, another Christmas I always loved was the dark, magical snowy Christmas in Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, second in a fantastic series of five fantasy novels for children. In The Dark is Rising, Will Stanton, seventh son of a seventh son, begins to experience all kinds of mysterious events, and learns that he is the last of the Old Ones, and part of the fight of the Light against the Dark. The backdrop of snow and ice and the festive season really creates the atmospheric magic of this book, set at the darkest time of the year.
A lesser known children’s book set at Christmas is Castaway Christmas, by Margaret Joyce Baker, a novel about four children who accidentally end up alone without their parents at Christmas, dealing with floods and all manners of disasters. As a child, I found it exciting and nerveracking, and it made you very glad of a warm home and a fire at Christmas.
The other Christmas I always remember fondly is from another old American classic, What Katy Did At School, where Katy and her sister Clover are stuck at their boarding school in the Christmas holidays, and are very sad, until unexpected Christmas boxes full of presents arrive. One year I was away from home myself at college, and a Christmas box arrived through the post, and I opened it with so much joy, thinking of Katy and Clover and how much they too enjoyed their Christmas boxes!
Finally, a new Christmas book to add to my favourites is a children’s picture book I bought this year, which is based on the now classic poem and picture book, Twas the Night Before Christmas, but with a new twist. The book, called A Pirate’s Night Before Christmas, features a pirate version of Father Christmas with a sleigh pulled by eight piratically named seahorses, and looks to be a great one to read for Christmases to come!
We have a copy of Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder in the children’s books section in the Normal College library down by the Menai Straits, where we keep books for teacher training, shelved at 823 Wil.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is shelved in the same collection, at 823 Alc; and there is a copy of Little Women and the sequel Good Wives in the Main Arts Library here in Bangor kept at PS1017 .L5; plus a book about Little Women called Little Women and the Feminist Imagination : criticism, controversy, personal essays edited by Janice M. Alberghene and Beverly Lyon Clark shelved at PS1017.L53 L68 1999.
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper (including single copies of the novel, or a collection of all 5 books) is also kept with the children’s books in the Normal Library, at 823 Coo; and there is a copy in the Welsh Library in Main Arts Library on College Road at X/DG 430 COO.
We do not have a copy of Castaway Christmas, a comparatively lesser known book, in any of the libraries; but What Katy Did At School and the other Katy books are housed with the children’s books, close to Susan Cooper at 823 Coo. A Pirate’s Night Before Christmas is not in our collections, but can be bought via the Amazon website.
Wishing everyone a fantastic fictional Christmas, and it would be interesting to hear about other people’s favourite literary Christmases, I’m sure I’ve left some good ones out!