I read A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas for the first time when I was 22; then I listened to Thomas’s audio rendition on an LP played on a Singer stereo record player, rising to flip the disc over and grab more coffee and cake. His delivery was unlike anything I had ever heard. I did nothing except listen.
Seven sentences in and I was caught, entranced, by both the unaffected innocence and the joyful, almost wild tension of the season as reflected in the boy’s remembered voice:
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.
All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen. It was on the afternoon of the Christmas Eve and I was in Mrs. Prothero’s garden, waiting for cats with her son Jim.
It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory, is white as Lapland though there were no reindeers. But there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. Sleek and long as jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling, they would slink and sidle over the white back-garden walls, and the lynx-eyed hunters, Jim and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles Road, would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes. The wise cats never appeared. ….
Including A Christmas Carol by Dickens, A Child’s Christmas… also never fails in its capacity to invoke a perfect bliss, the best kind of sweet wonder.
I remember. I remember. If we have been lucky, we want to remember our Christmases as children — the deep snows; the devotion to what we thought was our iron will to remain awake and catch Santa about his work, a willpower that always failed; our yearly astonishment at the piles of food jammed onto every square inch of the dining room table; the benign presence of unmarried aunts; the remembered sense of complete security — all those who were necessary in the world were here, in these few rooms.
Now, almost half-a-century later, I find the general good cheer of friends and passing strangers the best part of the season. We seem willing to look ahead with more optimism and are more likely to smile and say “Hello” and “Have a Happy Christmas” to just about anyone.
However, it is an especially hard life for many now — in its present state Europe is sending out whiffs of the early 1930’s, millions and millions of Americans are desperate for good jobs, maybe any kind of job. Politics is a wasteland. The legions of the poor have increased. The airwaves are full of more toxic crap than ever. There is no “but” coming here. I don’t know how to get around all those problems. Suggesting that someone in terrible need remember a lost Christmas or two would be obscene.
What I do know is that for however long it lasts, a few hours or a day or more, we need to be bonded with those we love — connected by blood or by affection, by a meal together and by stories, by worship and if need be by shared miseries temporarily put aside. This is where we renew ourselves so as to be able to again step up into whatever awaits us.
I believe that music too helps bring us back to our best selves, especially during Christmas. Enjoy.
James Brown: Soulful Christmas (no one can resist James Brown)
Oh, go on — do not be shy. Read it aloud to another.
A Happy Christmas to all and a hope for you and yours that this old world may be a better place on this day at least.
Please remember in your thoughts and prayers all those men and women in our armed forces who serve us both at home and under foreign suns.