I started with my library book The Christmas Cookie Club by Ann Pearlman. At first I thought I was reading a variation on a Debbie Macomber novel, with the cookie club replacing the yarn shop as the focus for women’s problems. I found I simply could not read it (‘a great writer’, Daily Mail), so tossed it aside and turned with relief to Agatha Raisin.
Thank you for all the suggestions for Christmas reading. Unfortunately, people’s favourites tend to be old and hard to get hold of. So I looked for titles on that Bodleian Christmas card and selected Old Christmas by Washington Irving as a free download for the Kindle. I’d never read anything by the author and failed to find out anything about this book. Even the British Library catalogue couldn’t give me the publication date, so I wonder if it was first printed in a book of short stories? I found it very surprising.
I’d expected to read about an old-time *American* Christmas but this Old Christmas is in England, and what a load of sentimental tosh it is. Everything in the (snowy) garden is lovely: stagecoaches, rosy-cheeked schoolboys looking forward to the holidays, everyone pleasant and happy. Irving starts with general reflections on Christmas.
Of all the old festivals, however, that of Christmas awakens the strongest and most heartfelt associations. There is a tone of solemn and sacred feeling that blends with our conviviality, and lifts the spirit to a state of hallowed and elevated enjoyment. The services of the church about this season are extremely tender and inspiring. They dwell on the beautiful story of the origin of our faith, and the pastoral scenes that accompanied its announcement. They gradually increase in fervour and pathos during the season of Advent, until they break forth in full jubilee on the morning that brought peace and good-will to men.
Stranger and sojourner as I am in the land,--though for me no social hearth may blaze, no hospitable roof throw open its doors, nor the warm grasp of friendship welcome me at the threshold,--yet I feel the influence of the season beaming into my soul from the happy looks of those around me.
Luckily for the narrator, a social hearth does blaze as he conveniently meets an old friend who invites him home for Christmas. The friend’s father, the Squire, likes to keep an old-fashioned Christmas and has studied old customs so as to keep them up. There’s a vast yule log, holly and ivy decorate every available surface, tables groan with food including a boar’s head and a great old wassail bowl which the Squire passes round (germs!)
Then his love of tradition becomes more sinister.
The Squire went on to lament the deplorable decay of the games and amusements which were once prevalent at this season among the lower orders, and countenanced by the higher:
we have almost lost our simple, true-hearted peasantry. They have broken asunder from the higher classes, and seem to think their interests are separate. They have become too knowing, and begin to read newspapers, listen to alehouse politicians, and talk of reform.
How dare they?
I preferred the earlier part of the story, where the narrator is still travelling.
I entered, and admired, for the hundredth time, that picture of convenience, neatness, and broad, honest enjoyment, the kitchen of an English inn. It was of spacious dimensions, hung round with copper and tin vessels, highly polished, and decorated here and there with a Christmas green. Hams, tongues, and flitches of bacon were suspended from the ceiling; a smoke-jack made its ceaseless clanking beside the fireplace, and a clock ticked in one corner. A well scoured deal table extended along one side of the kitchen, with a cold round of beef and other hearty viands upon it, over which two foaming tankards of ale seemed mounting guard.
If you want descriptions of happy Christmases you’d do much better with Dickens and with him, of course, you get a moral, too.
In other news, it's snowing rather heavily.