Glaedelig Jul ca 1906

Christmas …of course!

And yes, it does seem to be arriving with more frequency these days!

There you are, finally convinced that the last pine needle has been swept up (for those stubborn souls like me who still insist on a real tree)the fridge emptied of all those foods and jars and condiments you only ever buy at Christmas (after all, you convince yourself as your hand reaches the appropriate shelf in the supermarket, it’s only once a year …) when the shops are alerting you to the count down for the next season and the onslaught starts all over again.

And I have to confess to loving it all. The excuse for excess, for a brief overturn of parsimonious habits and the puritanical work ethic to do very little, watch a great deal and combine it all with an awful lot of puddings. Out come my Mary Berry and my Delia Smith tomes as I compare the relative qualities of their perfect cheese cakes, baked alaskas and lemon meringue miracles et al.

19th century literature is not huge on Christmas.

Apart from Dickens’ obvious contribution, of course.

And it’s often said that A Christmas Carol contributed a great deal to the increasing fascination and, let’s face it, exploitation of the season.

Other factors were also at work, however, and surely a swelling middle class and the arrival of department stores must have played their part. The first model for such a store was as early as 1796 when Harding, Howell and Company opened at 89 Pall Mall. Debenhams had its beginnings even earlier in 1778 in Wigmore Street. Peter Robinson was founded as a drapery in 1833 By the second half of the 19th century, Whiteleys, John Lewis and Bourne and Hollingsworth had all opened up shop to serve London’s appetites for this way of shopping. As a child, I remember being taken to see the Christmas window displays at Selfridges, always spectacular and part of the seasonal celebrations along with viewing the lights in Oxford Street and Regent Street.

And I have to say that thrill has not left me – the angels in Regent Street this Christmas really are wonderful!

But back to literature.

We all know Jo March’s complaint that Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents and sadly for many families it may well be a diminished Christmas financially this year. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe we hear that in Narnia, It’s always winter, but never Christmas, which would certainly be intolerable. Winters here in the UK are long, dark and drear and without the festive break and an excuse to get together with family and be overindulgent, the season would be even more intolerable. Cider with Rosie, Laurie Lee’s wonderfully evocative autobiography of growing up in a Cotswold village in the early 20th century sets the scene with an account of carol singing.

The week before Christmas, when the snow seemed to lie thickest was the moment for carol-singing: and when I think back to those nights it is to the crunch of snow and to the lights of the lanterns on it. Carol-singing in my village was a special tithe for the boys, the girls had little to do with it.

Imagine trying that on today with the girls in our constantly striving to be equal society!

The Christmas books I have fondest memories of are the ones bought to read to my very small son in the waning years of the 20th century and fledgling years of the new millennium. And above all, it’s P.B.Bear‘s Christmas that I still love and, naturally, have kept amongst all his other childhood books. The illustrations are charming and the story, of course, simple and warming. I can heartily recommend it if it’s still available – as a gift to both giver and very young receiver alike!

So a very happy Christmas as we draw close to The Day – whatever 2022 has held, hopefully the season itself will bring you some cheer – and possibly even some carefully wrapped new books to read nestling under the tinsel or true pine tree!

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