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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Compulsory Pre-Christmas Post...Book Christmases!

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Okay, after finding about a million Christmas-themed posts on blogs I follow, I thought it might be time to do one of my own, even though it's not my holiday.  I have, in the past written about how I adore being alone on Christmas Day, packing a picnic lunch, with fresh summer fruit, home-baked bread or rolls, the mince tart or fruit cake someone at work invariably gives me, and going to the beach to read. I remember being a bit disappointed when my sister and brother-in-law decided to have a barbecue on that day. I had to be sociable!

So I'll write instead about Christmas in books that I can recall, and if you have something to add, feel free to comment. 

There's the obvious one, A Christmas Carol by Dickens, that Victorian Christmas card of a novella. I think I read somewhere that the Christmas tree was brought to England from Germany by Prince Albert, and, I suppose, quite a lot of other things we associate with this time of year and era. Anyway, it does tend to be the way we imagine a Victorian Christmas, doesn't it? And there's no doubt that Dickens manages to slip his social justice ideas into this one, not just in the Bob Cratchit thing, but that scene where Scrooge is confronted with two shivering children under the robes of Christmas Present. The Ghost says they represent Ignorance and Want.

Which brings me to The Last of The Spirits by modern writer Chris Priestley. This is sort of A Christmas Carol fan fiction. In it, the two children are real people, the main characters of the book. They have taken refuge in Scrooge's living room after he was whisked off for his lesson in How To Be A Better Person, having encountered first Scrooge himself, on the street, then the ghost of Jacob Marley, on his way to save his friend's soul. They are not at all pleased to be used as a moral lesson by the Ghost of Christmas Present. But eventually the boy, whose bitterness about their troubles was sending him along the same route as Scrooge, has his own soul saved and the two of them encounter the new Scrooge, now willing to help them. 

Who can forget the classic Christmas scene at the beginning of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott? The girls are regretting their(genteel) poverty and then deciding that they will unselfishly spend their small amount of money on buying something for their mother, which she will receive, birthday-style, next morning. And next morning they wake up to newly-covered copies of The Pilgrim's Progress, a favourite of their childhoods. Actually, I'm not sure it isn't the Bible, but I think it was Pilgrim's Progress, because following chapters have titles based on that book, eg "Jo Meets Apollyon."

And then they give up their breakfasts to a poor German migrant family living nearby and go home to bread and milk. Even Amy, the most selfish of the sisters, is okay with this. That night, they perform a play written by Jo, who thoroughly enjoys playing the villain. It isn't a nativity play, but one of her blood-and-thunder stories. The novel was semi-autobiographical, with Louisa as Jo, but though she was already an adult by the Civil War, even worked as a nurse, she did write a lot of melodramatic stories; I have a collection of her short fiction. 

There is a short story in the Phryne Fisher universe, "Overheard On A Balcony", in which Phryne and her maid Dot go to the Queenscliff Hotel in the Victorian coastal town of the same name, for a Christmas in July celebration organised by a friend of hers, an Englishman who loves everything about Australia except the summer Christmas. Of course, this being a Phryne Fisher mystery, the party is spoiled by a murder. I couldn't help thinking that this story was a sort of experiment for Urn Burial, her Agatha Christie tribute. It does have some elements of that novel.

Let's conclude with the Harry Potter novels, each with a Christmas chapter. Christmas in the Potterverse, let's face it, is never a delight for the characters.

I'm currently rereading the Christmas chapter in The Deathly Hallows, in which Harry and Hermione, who have been wandering the country to avoid the Death Eaters and seek the Horcruxes, suddenly realise it's Christmas Eve in the village of Godric's Hollow, where Harry was born, as the church is all lit up and people are heading there. Of course, having read this book before, I know that two of our heroes are about to have a nasty experience. 

Harry receives his first Christmas gifts in Philosopher's Stone, including the Invisibility Cloak, but he also discovers the Mirror of Erised and becomes hooked on it. 

In Chamber Of Secrets, he and Ron take the Polyjuice Potion to make them look like Crabbe and Goyle, but don't learn much from Malfoy and meanwhile, Hermione gets a cat's head due to a mistake in the hairs she stole. 

In Prisoner Of Azkaban, Harry receives the Firebolt broom, but immediately loses it because Hermione suspects it has been sent by Sirius Black and warns Professor McGonagall. Well, it has, but it wasn't cursed. And Ron blows up when he thinks her cat, Crookshanks, ate his rat Scabbers, who is actually doing something that worked when, as Peter Pettigrew, he betrayed Sirius and the Potters. 

Christmas in a Goblet Of Fire has the Yule Ball. Ron is jealous of Viktor Krum and has a fight with Hermione. Some unpleasant things are also going on around Hogwarts that night.

Christmas in Order Of The Phoenix is spent with the Weasleys, but Mr Weasley is in hospital after being attacked by the serpent Nagini. Lockhart appears at the hospital, still out of his head, we find out that Neville's parents are alive but mentally ill after having been tortured by the Death Eaters and a character is murdered by a bewitched pot plant.

On Christmas Day in Half-Blood Prince, Ron is poisoned and nearly dies; he only survives because Harry remembers something Snape taught them in their very first Potions class. Oh, and this is after he has been affected  by chocolates laced with love potion. Poor Ron...

No, Christmas is not a happy holiday for Harry and his friends!


miki said...

i may be late sending your gift (sorry) but i'm not forgetting

Sue Bursztynski said...

That's fine, I have only just sent yours!

Unknown said...

I think of Little Women too when I think of books featuring Christmas. I seem to be the only person in the world who likes fruit cake!

Sue Bursztynski said...

No, I like it too! :-)