One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.I've been meaning to read Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales around Christmas for at least three years now, and the Virtual Advent Blog Tour turned out to be the perfect excuse. I didn't think I could get away with posting a Portuguese Christmas recipe yet again, so I'll give you my thoughts on this classic short story instead.
A Child's Christmas in Wales is not really a story that centres around a particular event; it's a story that presents a sequence of events that took place in one (or several) of the narrator's childhood Christmases. I guess this is a nice way of saying it doesn't have much of a plot, but that doesn't make it any less of a joy to read. It's a sequence of memories that read a bit like a sequence of dreams - they are idealized memories, but then that's the whole point.
The language is what gives this story a great part of its charm. It has a very unique rhythm, and I can see this little book becoming One of Those I read aloud to my cats. Example:
Bring out the tall tales now that we told by the fire as the gaslight bubbled like a diver. Ghosts whooed like owls in the long nights when I dared not look over my shoulder; animals lurked in the cubbyhole under the stairs and the gas meter ticked. And I remember that we went singing carols once, when there wasn't the shaving of a moon to light the flying streets. At the end of a long road was a drive that led to a large house, and we stumbled up the darkness of the drive that night, each one of us afraid, each one holding a stone in his hand in case, and all of us too brave to say a word. The wind through the trees made noises as of old and unpleasant and maybe webfooted men wheezing in caves. We reached the black bulk of the house. "What shall we give them? Hark the Herald?"Wonderful language aside, I worry that by describing A Child's Christmas in Wales as a collection of memories I'm not making it sound terribly interesting to those of you who haven't read it, but the truth is, it is. And the reason why it is so interesting it's because it captures the feeling of Christmas very well, even for those of us whose memories are nothing like the narrator's. There overall tone of the story is warm, but there's also something very nostalgic and bittersweet about it. Though nothing is said about the present, it's implied that the happy times being remembered are gone, and that present and future Christmases will never live up to past ones. This kind of nostalgia has been known to make me roll my eyes, but in this case it didn't at all.
I'm a fan of Christmas. This always seems to surprise people, who mostly expect me not to have much patience for it at all. I do sympathize with those who dislike the season: I think they have a point about the over-commercialization, the pressure, and even the cruelty of the holidays. Christmas tends to exclude those who don't fit into a certain definition of happiness, and it has the potential to make people feel awfully lonely. It's no wonder that suicide rates go up.
But. I like it because I need something like this in my life. I need a ritual, a period of time that seems to exist outside normal life. I need a time that's cosy and comfortable and yes, nostalgic, where I remember my losses and reassess the past. And I need the push to reach out to people I care about but haven't really talked to throughout the year. I know we should do so without needing big flashing lights and sentimental holiday cards to remind us, but the fact is, most of us don't. I guess that what I like the most about Christmas is that it gives us an excuse to be a little warmer.
...I'm going to stop now before this becomes a bad TV commercial. So, Christmas! Bittersweet and potentially lonely and nostalgic, but also cosy and lovely and fun. You should read the Dylan Thomas story if you haven't yet. You can do so online, though the web version doesn't have Edward Ardizzone's lovely illustrations.
And you should also visit book-a-rama, Sassymonkey Reads and Mrs. Q: Book Addict for the rest of today's Advent Tour stops. I'm sure theirs will be a lot more cheerful than mine - I promise that when I started this post I didn't mean for it to sound quite so blue. Christmas is good! And it can be fun to indulge in nostalgia, even when it makes us a little sad.
...finally, you should share some of your thoughts on Christmas in the comments if you're so inclined. Yes, it's probably true that almost everything there is to say about Christmas has been said a thousand times before, but that never does seem to stop us humans from talking about stuff. And I'm glad it doesn't. So, do you love Christmas? Why (or why not)?
A big thank you to Marg and Kelly for putting this tour together. (For the fourth time now!)