As we wander round the shopping centres or do the washing-up, favourite Christmas songs and carols come at our ears from all directions. And every family has its Christmas film and TV traditions.
What about books? I am not here talking about Advent reflections, which I am not good with. But fiction dealing with the celebration of Christmas, books to give a Christmassy glow.
What’s your fave?
Of course the granddaddy of Christmas books is Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol.” Ghosts, and plum pudding, and Tiny Tim.
I find it interesting, that when Scrooge says to his nephew sarcastically, “Much good has it [Christmas] ever done you!” Fred replies “… I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round – apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that – as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” (My italics)
I am too ignorant to know if this is the beginning of the attitude that goes all the way to today’s John Lewis Christmas ads – the concept that Christmas means fuzzy kindness, togetherness and generosity… apart from its Christian meaning. “If anything belonging to it can be apart from that”, Fred says, but the rest of the story, and so many more, do manage to be “apart from that”.
(This story was memorably filmed by the Muppets.)
If anyone wants a Christmas picture book for children, I can recommend two very nice ones. One is Jesus’ Christmas Party by Nicholas Allan, which tells the nativity from the point of view of the grumpy innkeeper. It doesn’t actually mention God. A different approach is taken in the less well-known, but utterly charming Happy Christmas, Gemma by Sarah Hayes and Jan Ormerod. This shows a black British family celebrating Christmas, with presents and food… and church taken for granted as part of family life, as it is also in the companion Eat up, Gemma.
As children’s books get longer and more wordy, fewer of them deal exclusively with Christmas, but many of the nicest episodes in stories or series occur in December. The Wind in the Willows has the Mole’s return home on Christmas Eve (surely this chapter is the epitome of hygge); Harry Potter has several memorable Christmases, and so do Laura and Mary in the Little House books, which I have mentioned before. (“Think of having candy, and a cake, and a cup, and a penny.”)
Adult fiction, Dickens apart, is a bit less cheery. In Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum, (spoiler alert!!) Ruby’s sister Gillian is run over and killed on Christmas Eve. “I think Patricia and I should share Gillian’s presents, but don’t say so because I know this isn’t the right attitude.”
(Don’t let this put you off Behind the Scenes… which is an excellent novel, and in fact is more cheerful than some of her later ones.)
Romantic novelist Norah Lofts wrote a fictionalised version of the Nativity, How Far to Bethlehem? which is not very theological but does not shy away from the miraculous, and is worth reading. Her Magi are an old astronomer, a barbarian king and a runaway slave.
But on the whole it’s poets who write about the Incarnation at Christmas time. John Betjeman’s “Christmas” and “Advent”; T S Eliot’s “The Journey of the Magi”, and John Milton’s “Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity”, which pictures the pagan gods fleeing the infant Christ, and describes the shepherds as “simply chatting in a rustic row” before the angels appear. “Perhaps their loves or else their sheep/was all that did their silly thoughts so busy keep.”
However, I have to admit that there are really two main kinds of Christmas books.
There are ghost stories, a genre that I don’t really “do”, so I’ll leave it to others to recommend.
And there are annuals, ideal for stockings… The Beano, the Broons, the anything-that’s-been-sufficiently-famous-this-year… and best of all…Private Eye.
What have I left out? What do you want under the tree? Or what will you picking up to reread this Christmas?
Love from the PPI Blogger