Dec 3, 2009

Virtual Advent: A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

Virtual Advent Blog Tour 2009 A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas
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.
A Child's Christmas in Wales

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!)


  1. Great post, Ana! Thanks for joining in again this year. Happy Holidays!

  2. Thank YOU for participating!

    I must confess that I don't often read Christmas themed books. I briefly contemplated reading A Christmas Carol this year, but I don't think it is going to happen. Maybe next year.

  3. I've heard a lot about this book the past couple of years, and have finally put in a request at the library. It will hopefully arrive sometime next week.

  4. I have to be honest, I am not very original as far as Christmas reading goes and the only book I read this time of the year is Dickens's Christmas Carol. I just somehow don't feel the pull to read anything else that has to do with Christmas. I will have to try though and I guess this year is just as good as any to do it with this book.

  5. Ana, great post.. It brought a smile on my face and made me want to read the book. Thanks :)

  6. I don't think present Christmases ever live up to past Christmases. I think we tend to remember the best and forget about the bad parts. So the past tends to be a shinier memory than it actual was!

    Maybe we should live in the moment more and keep our expectations reasonable.

    Great thoughtful post!

  7. I can't remember the exact Christmas when I realized that it wasn't as wonderful as I always seemed to think it would be. It was a bit of a harsh realization. At the same time, it's allowed me to relax a lot about the holidays and enjoy them for what they are -- which is exactly as you say, a chance to connect/reconnect with people, a chance to think, and a chance to enjoy something that somehow seems just a little different from every day life.

    My mother has an audiobook version of "A Child's Christmas in Wales" that she listens to every year, but I'm not sure I've ever heard the whole thing. Am now inspired!

  8. On the story side: I've never read anything by Mr. Thomas and I can't think of him anymore without Death and Baby Death's manipulation of his underworld soul...

    On the Christmas side: I love this time of year. I don't care about the commercialization (what part of the year DOESN'T have commercial stuff shoved down our throats? I've learned to ignore it at all part of the year). I don't care about the religious aspects either. People are always surprised to find me celebrating Christmas when I don't believe in Christianity. To me, Christmas is about family, love, giving people gifts that will make them happy, and all the many Christmas traditions that I love from my family.

    Sadly, Jason finds the whole season exasperating and tiring, and while he tries not to be, he's a real grouch about the whole thing at times. But I don't find the season stressful or lonely or sad. It's the one thing of the year that I can look forward to without cynicism, if that makes sense. :)

  9. I love Dylan Thomas - he was such a great writer. But I get depressed reading him when I think about his life!

  10. I love what you said about Christmas giving us a reason to be a little bit warmer. Next time someone says Christmas has gotten to commercial I think I will share this thought. Great post. Merry Christmas.

  11. I think it's interesting Chris says present Christmases can't live up to past ones. Every time Christmas rolls around, I am surprised once again at how wonderful I find it. I had two absolutely miserable ones in college - first I was in England away from my family with only my then-boyfriend for company (he hated giving and receiving presents and yelled at me for expecting him to be pleased with gifts); and then the year after, my grandfather died and we spent the Christmas doing funeral type things. So I think after those I've come to appreciate a good Christmas even more.

  12. This is one of those I *ought* to read, but haven't (yet). It does sound lovely, and reminiscing about Christmases past is one of my favorite things to do and read about at this time of year. Thanks for the extra push. Merry Christmas!

  13. Ms Nymeth - Thanks, it is always wonderful to read someone's cheerful feelings about Christmas. I remember as a kid alwaystrying to 'get' Christmas, because other people loved it so much - I think Christmas is wonderful, but that I just am not capable of understanding it's wonderfulness (in other words, if I were a bigger person I'd figure out Christmas and love it to pieces). Sorry Amanda :(. But, I do love hearing other people's happy Christmases, especially carefully thought out happys, like your review. I read Mr Thomas's Christams stories when I was very young, and loved it - I always felt like her really knew that all the things weren't perfect, but that he had learned how to love it anyway, you know?

    My favorite Christmas memory, though, is of when I was a kid. My little sister's room was right across from mine, and she told me she couldn't sleep, so I sang Christmas songs to her. WEll, actually just Silent Night. Over and over. And louder each time, because I thought I just sounded so darn good (I actually DIDN'T, but I really thought so). After about 45 mins, my mom came out, and very calmly had to tell me that while it's wonderful that I liked to sing, that perhaps the middle of the night wasn't the best time. In my defense, though, I think my sister WAS asleep by then...

  14. Just reserved my copy of this book at the local library thanks to your wonderful post!

  15. I know what you mean...something about Christmases as a child that's impossible to get back....

  16. Thanks for the review, Ana! It sounds like such a lovely book!

    I love Christmas! I have a pretty close family, and so we all spend time together through the year on various occassions, but we might not all be together at the same time, it'll be 2 or 3 out of us 4, but Christmas is the one time we can garuntee we're all together. It's a big day for us to all have a great time together, playing games, eating, laughing and joking. It's awesome!

    Thanks for the post!

  17. This is one of those books that I've also been meaning to read since forever. Last year at our choir Christmas concert, one of the basses with a gorgeous speaking voice read a section from A Child's Christmas in Wales, and I just adored it.

  18. I will read this short story during my lunch, maybe!

    I don't have feelings on Christmas one way or another, but I admit, depressingly, that the thought has occurred to me that when friends and even family move on and perhaps marry and have children, I could (if I don't do the same) be left behind. We'll see what happens, I guess.

    I don't read Christmas tales, really, mostly because I feel like stories centered around one day of the year seem a bit odd and limited, but I can recognize their ability to put people into the spirit!

  19. A collection of memories sounds great to me. I love the Christmas season.

  20. One of the very best movies I've ever seen is A Child's Christmas in Wales. It brings the story alive and is really, really perfect. We used to watch it on video when our kids were little, and now finally it is available on dvd. I'm thinking it would make a wonderful Christmas gift for you to give yourself! It may be one of those rarities when the movie is equal to, and maybe even better than the book.

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  22. I imagine the cats would enjoy your rendition, but you might not like their reading it to you. Should you want just to listen, rather than to read aloud, there's an audio version by the author. (I found a version of it on NPR's site.) It is an amazing experience...

  23. Christmas is really one of my favorite holidays because of the sense of giving and feeling included.

    I'm not Christian nor is my boyfriend or my family but we all buy each other way too many gifts and make each other way too much peppermint hot chocolate (the best part of the holidays) and try to include others in our strange winter festivities.

    I hope at least in the bloggy world, the community will keep anyone from getting too down during the holidays because it really is a beautiful time of the year and every one should enjoy it accordingly. :)

  24. nice post. I read this a couple of years ago, and found it just lovely. I should get it again from the library.
    I must check out sprite's link for the audio.
    Merry Christmas Ana!

  25. Ana, I really appreciate the thoughts on Christmas that you share here!

    I do love Christmas, but my focus has definitely changed over the years. For me it is a contemplative time of year. I've also begun to focus more on the religious aspects (I am Christian) and a whole lot less on what I call the Christmas "hoopla." I enjoy my memories of Christmases past when all of those I love were still alive and I try to honor those memories without becoming maudlin!

  26. LOL! I love it. I have been looking for something to read to the cats.

  27. I still haven't read this but have heard about it for years. It sounds lovely.

  28. Great post, Nymeth! I enjoyed reading it! I've not heard of that book so I'll have to check it out. Thanks for the review!

  29. I've been looking for more Christmas stories to read to get in the holiday spirit, and this one seems just right. Thanks again for a wonderful review!

  30. Fantastic post Ana!! I've been wanting to read this for years and years. I think you've finally pushed me to do so!! I'll have to go look for this!

  31. I think for a while the commercialization at this time bothered me, but I've learned to look past it. My sister decided she didn't want to exchange any gifts, and I realized that I love to give - I have always loved giving and receiving! so I said to my mother, let's you and I exchange, which she is really happy about. I'm pagan, too, but raised a Catholic, so it's been a struggle to get through the religion to what the holidays and the solstice really mean to me. I love this time of year. It's the ending of the old, and a time to reflect and remember people we've lost, like you say (I like how you said it), and then I look forward to the new year. I think of giving gifts at this time as a way of bringing in the new year with love and sharing and giving - creating good things for the new year. I think it is a time to celebrate.

    Love the post, Nymeth. And no, I haven't read the book yet, now I'm thinking I really should!!!

  32. I love Christmas. I love the lights and the craziness and the packed mall, all of it. I don't participate in all of it, certainly not the black friday bit, but I love seeing everyone else do it. Now with kids, it's even better.

  33. Lovely post, and I love your thoughts about Christmas. I haven't loved it so much in the past, but I'm really enjoying it so far this year. It *is* melancholy, isn't it? Melancholy can be beautiful. I love the lights and the stories. Makes me want to go get our tree!

  34. I'm so happy Christmas (my birthday) time is finally here! Sounds like a great story to put you in the holiday mood.

  35. I love the idea of a book of Christmas memories. Horray for Christmas!

    This is a little odd, I know, but I actually like some of the commercialization. I think it's awesome that so many businesses decorate for the holidays. Holiday lighting is seriously one of my favourite things about life, and I love that I can see it EVERYWHERE! Then there are all the trees and wreaths and menorahs and things spread around everywhere, and the tasty holiday-specific foods in all the grocery stores, and the large candy displays, and the piles of toys... and yeah, it's pretty consumerist, but it's so much fun to look at and poke through that I really can't regret it.

  36. Thanks for a great and thoughtful post. December is for me a stressful time, and many a year I have been hating the days where I have had to run around in the cold and rainy city hunting for gifts after yet another day at work, where the holidays couldn't mean less. Last year we didn't even bother putting up any christmassy things at home, since we were both so over worked.

    And every year I make a promise that NEXT year, I will be in the holiday spirit from December 1.

    I am not there yet, but I decorated a bit, put up some candles and bought cookies (no I am not a baker and do not make good cookies myself) and am trying not to stress out completely over shopping.

    I am not by any means a christmas hater, but I have to say that to me it is mainly about having time off from work, although being with family comes in as a number two.

  37. I listened to this story on tape yesterday and found my mind wandering. It was late. I need to try it again.

    Stop by my blog if you get a chance and take a look at my list of favorite children's Christmas picture books. A winter storm knocked out our Internet connection yesterday, so I ended up posting today.

  38. Kelly: Hopefully next year I'll be here for the 4th round :D

    Marg: A Christmas Carol is such fun!

    JoAnn: I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it!

    Lilly: I only started doing this whole themed reading thing a couple of years ago, but now I'm hooked :P

    Shona, I'm glad to hear it!

    Chris: That's a VERY good point.

    Kiirstin: The pressure for everything to be perfect during the holidays is definitely a problem, but like you, I try to enjoy them for what they are :)

    Amanda: lol :P And yes, that does make sense. That's how I feel about Christmas too.

    Jill: I don't actually know much about his life, and am now scared to go look it up :P

    Krissi: Merry Christmas to you as well :D

    Jenny: I'm sorry to hear about those difficult Christmases :( Now that I think of it, I'm lucky enough never to have had a truly bad one. It's funny how it often takes something bad for us to be able to truly appreciate something good.

    Melissa: Merry Christmas! I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

    Jason: Aw - I love that story. I can't tell you how much it made me smile <3

    Molly: Enjoy it! :D

    Meryl: I kind of enjoy the nostalgia, though :)

    Jo: Aw - your Christmases sound like such fun. I wish my own family got along that well :P

    Julia: That sounds like it was amazing!

    Aarti: Aw, you won't be left behind! I mean, even if the people you're close to now move away, there are always new changes to connect with people.

    Kathy: So do I :)

    Nan: I need to see if I can find that movie!

    sprite: Thank you so much for that link!!

    Lena: Exactly <3 I'm not Christian either, but I've never felt left out. I just love all the little Christmas-y things (like hot chocolate) to bits.

  39. sounds like a wonderful story. I have a bucket of story books that I put under the tree every year for people to read. I read them every year to myself and to the grandkids. Reading is a great Christmas tradition.

  40. raidergirl3: Thank you and Merry Christmas!

    Terri B: It's definitely a contemplative time for me as well - and I need a time like that, a time of looking back.

    Nicole: They seem to enjoy it :P

    The Literary Stew: It really is!

    Melody: I think it's one both you and your girls would enjoy :)

    Cam: You're most welcome!

    Chris: So had I :P Never too late!

    Susan: I mostly look past it as well, and even enjoy some of it. I love what you said about entering the new year surrounded by love and giving - that sums it up so perfectly.

    Lisa: I also actually enjoy those busy shopping days when everyone seems to be out and about. Especially after dark.

    Daphne: It is, but that's definitely a part of what makes it beautiful <3

    Ladytink: My birthday is also near Christmas, but not actually ON Christmas :P I still get 2-in-1 gifts, though :P

    Memory: I actually know what you mean. And though the environmentalist in me weeps, I adore the lights.

    Louise: I'm sorry to hear it's so stressful for you - I can relate, because I've had Christmases like that, but most are enjoyable regardless. I hope this year goes well for you!

    readerbuzz: Thank you - I'll definitely stop by!

    Kaye: Aw, that sounds like a wonderful tradition indeed!

    Rebecca: It is -- very sweet and fun to read.

  41. Like Memory I also like the feeling that everyone is joining in something together. (the decorations, etc.)

    Christmas for me has been what I make it. It has often been accompanied by some painful events in my life, but they have never stopped me from loving Christmas. In fact, I often think Christmas has breathed hope into my weary soul and shattered heart.

  42. Very cool and heartfelt post. I sometimes feel exasperated by the holidays because the is indeed a lot of pressure to select the perfect gifts on a budget and to decide which of my parents I am going to spend the holidays with aside from all the cooking and decorating that must be done. This year I am feeling more grateful for Christmas and the chance I will get to spend the holidays with my husband and kids. I think the trick for me is to keep it small and quiet, and just revel in the time I get with my family, instead of putting myself into the pressure cooker for a month and a half. I 'll admit that I am looking forward to it much more this year than I have in years past.

  43. One of my best friend's birthday is on Christmas. Mine is on the 20th. I meant to write "and" lol.

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