Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Favourite Christmas book???

I wish I could say that our family had a tradition of getting together and reading the same book out aloud to each other on Christmas Day. It would be lovely - but we haven't.
Of course I was given books at Christmas. I always knew there would be a  book for Christmas. My parents deliberately gave us books. 
My mother saw them as a way of keeping us quiet while things like Christmas lunch were being prepared. It must have been the teacher in her. My father, when he wasn't busy doing whatever he had been told to do, would sneak another look at them. I remember waiting impatiently while he read "a whole chapter of Pippi Longstocking all to himself".
Christmas Downunder tends to be hot. The forecast for this year is very hot. The Senior Cat and I will probably stay home. It will be too hot for him to go anywhere. I may dig out "Pippi in the South Seas" and remind him of how he read that chapter. 
But Christmas comes in other books. I remember the carol singers coming in Noel Streatfeild's "Ballet Shoes". The closest we ever came to such things was the Salvation Army Band playing carols some distance away. Now even that doesn't happen. "People don't want those sort of carols" I was told recently. They don't? Do they prefer those awful commercial versions  in the supermarket?
There was a book by, I think, Ralph Smart called "Bush Christmas" made into a film with Chips Rafferty but it didn't evoke Christmas for me. 
But there are two of my childhood books that do evoke Christmas I suppose. One is "The Summer in Between" by Eleanor Spence. It is the story of Faith, daughter of a teacher in a rural town, and her summer between leaving primary school and going to high school. Early in the book she says "It smells like Christmas" and this is not about Christmas lunch but about  the other smells of summer, particularly the glut of apricots her mother is making into jam.
It's one of those books which should be better known, even now.
And the other is a book which was translated from the German, "The Ark" by Margot Benary. It is set just after the end of the war. The mother and the children have almost nothing but they have each other and, somehow, the mother makes Christmas for her children and the old woman who has - reluctantly - taken them in. The description is a very moving one. There are the mittens their mother has made by unravelling a knitted garment that of which there is "almost nothing left" and there is a cake - something the children wonder at because it means their mother must have given up food for herself in order to make it.
I have experienced something close to the Spence but the Benary is something I appreciate even more as an adult.That mother is Christmas.


jeanfromcornwall said...

I remember "The Summer in Between". I really enjoyed it, whenever it was that I read it! It is one of those excellent books about the changes of growing up.

The Christmas book I will never read again is "Children of the New Forest" by Captain Marryat. It was in my stocking the year that my one and only grandparent, Grandma who lived three doors away, died on Christmas Eve. I read it right through, alone in the house while all the adults were at her funeral, and drinking tea and mourning, three doors away. I don't know why I was not allowed to be there. The book that got me through that one has been closed ever since.

catdownunder said...

We were not permitted to attend the funerals of our maternal grandparents and I was on the other side of the world when my paternal grandparents died. I didn't go to a funeral until I was at least 26.
My nephews on the other hand acted as ushers for their maternal grandmother's funeral. At ten and twelve they did a damn good job of it too.