''Twas the Night Before Christmas' or 'A Visit From St Nicholas' by Clement C. Moore
Father Christmas is seen, reindeer and all, as he comes to a family's house and goes about his work.
This poem is very famous, and a classic that ought to be included in every Christmas collection (well, quite possibly it is). There is no need for me to explain anything about it. I've no objection to having something a bit predictable to finish my Christmas treasury. This is a Christmas Eve poem, and that's all there is to it!
'Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.'
Clement C. Moore, ''Twas the Night Before Christmas', Rosemary Gray (ed.), 'Twas the Night Before Christmas and Other Christmas Stories (Wordsworth, 2010), p.23.
'The Spell Begins to Break' from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Illustration by Paul Baynes
Novel Excerpt (1950)
The White Witch's spell, that makes it always winter and never Christmas in Narnia, is breaking. Father Christmas has come to Narnia with gifts for the Pevensie children.
This book is another great classic, and another favourite of mine, and - like Little Women much earlier in the collection - it deserves to be butter in this Christmas sandwich. The Father Christmas chapter is very striking, and unlike anything else I have chosen, with Father Christmas being a more noble and serious figure than tradition dictates. The gifts he brings are weapons for Peter, Susan and Lucy to fight (or more accurately in the girls' case, to defend themselves) against the evil queen and her army (we can also suppose he brought something for the absent Edmund, but we never learn what it was). Of course Lewis meant us to understand that Narnia is deprived of more than presents and feasts with the disappearance of Christmas. Aslan's presence breaks Jadis's spell in many ways, though the religious connotations are not overstated here, which perhaps the harsher critics will approve of - but never mind them. The story is for children, as is my Christmas collection. This piece is exciting, striking and empowering for them, and shows Christmas in a unique way, while still it is a beacon of hope and signifies something very special.
' "These are your presents," was the answer, "and they are tools, not toys. The time to use them is perhaps near at hand. Bear them well." '
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (HarperCollins Children's Books, 2001), p.118.
'The Song of the Holly Fairy' and 'The Song of the Christmas Tree Fairy' by Cicely Mary Barker
Illustration by the poet
The Holly Fairy welcomes the festive season, and then the magic of Christmas brings to life the fairy on the top of the tree, when the children are asleep.
It was only after a lot of thinking, with one spot left to fill, that I remembered Flower Fairies of the Winter. Then once I'd thought of it, I didn't know if it contained any Christmassy poems, or even if I'd find my copy - but I did, and sure enough there was 'The Song of the Christmas Tree Fairy' at the very end. It's short and sweet at three six-line stanzas, not very long for this collection, so I turned to 'The Song of the Holly Fairy' to see if it would do to go with it. The answer is yes, it will. The Holly Fairy hails the coming of December, and boastingly references a certain Christmas carol. Like Beatrix Potter and Joyce Lankester Brisley, Barker began as an artist, and even a total Scrooge could surely see why children were so delighted by her Flower Fairy illustrations.
'And carol-boys go singing clear
'Of all the trees (O hush and hear!)
'The holly bears the crown!'
Cicely Mary Barker, Flower Fairies of the Winter (Blackie and Son Ltd., 1987), no pagination.
'O magic sight, this joyous night!
'O laden, sparkling tree!'
Barker's illustration of the Christmas Tree Fairy, courtesy of flowerfairyprints.com.
Barker's illustration of the Holly Fairy, courtesy of flowerfairyprints.com.
'Father Christmas' by Catherine Storr
Illustrations by Marjorie-Ann Watts
Short Story (1957)
The Wolf thinks that Polly cannot possibly resist Father Christmas, but instead of catching her with his disguise, he ends up playing the part in a shop full of children.
The Polly and the Wolf stories are some of the first I used to read myself, and they are brilliant. The Wolf in particular is one of the greatest and funniest fictional characters I have ever come across. In this story, he has some truly hilarious moments, such as trying to come to terms with Polly and himself not being able to see each other when he puts on his disguise to phone her.
' "...One of them did ask for a baby sister," he said thoughtfully, "but did she really want her to eat, I ask myself?" '
Catherine Storr, Polly and the Wolf Again (Puffin Books, 1970), p.29.
The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter
Illustrations by the author
Short Story (1903)
A tailor, who is kind to mice, must finish making a coat for the mayor's Christmas wedding, or risk becoming destitute. All may be lost when he is too ill to work.
As everyone knows, Beatrix Potter wrote sweet and simple tales to accompany her beautiful illustrations. For Christmas, she takes us away from the more usual Lake District, and essentially gives us a version of 'The Elves and the Shoemaker'. I may have overused the word 'charming' in this endeavour, but nevertheless that is how I must describe this story: charming. It is a little different from other stories by Potter, partly because of the different setting, and also because the animals only speak on the night between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (which I believe is a legend connected with the animals in Jesus's stable). For children to imagine such a thing happening while they are sleeping away the time until Christmas morning is, I think, a lovely idea. I also adore Simpkin, who happens to be the only character in the story with a proper name. The illustrations of him look sweet and furry enough to stroke, while beneath that cute exterior he really is a very catty cat indeed!
'...and although it was the middle of the night the throstles and robins sang; the air was quite full of little twittering tunes.
'But it was all rather provoking to poor hungry Simpkin!'
Beatrix Potter, 'The Tailor of Gloucester' (Penguin, 2002), pp.39-40.
An illustration of Simpkin, courtesy of tate.org.uk.
'All This Was Meant To Be' and 'Once In Every Generation' from Forever Rose by Hilary McKay
Novel Excerpt (2007)
Rose Casson provides a last-minute Baby Jesus for the school nativity, and causes quite a shock to one member of her family.
I have returned to Hilary McKay, this time with a more sentimental and Christmassy offering than The Exiles at Home. Pretty much the whole story is about Christmas, so I could have chosen just about any excerpt, but of course I picked my favourite bit. Like many of the other pieces in this collection, it is sweet and fun, but with a modern style and McKay's own unique touch. It shows some of an eventful Christmas countdown for the Casson family just before, in the real world, the date finally clicks over into the 20s.
'Yesterday Kai covered Baby Jesus (who used to be Baby Annabel) with Golden Oak wood preservative and today he is sticking to everything.'
Hilary McKay, Forever Rose (Hodder Children's Books, 2008), p.244.
'The Christmas Party and Mr D. Smith' from The Wombles by Elisabeth Beresford
Novel Excerpt (1968)
The Wombles prepare for their Christmas party, and when Great Uncle Bulgaria meets a lonely old man, he can't help inviting him along.
The first and, in my opinion, best Wombles book contains this sweet and heart-warming little tale. Their Christmas celebrations are charming, very like our own in some ways, and yet uniquely Womble. Mr Smith's story is understated and sad. It is the only time you will see a Womble invite a human being to the burrow, because Christmas is really a very special time indeed.
'Of course, some Wombles say among themselves that before the great gift hunt starts Tobermory and Great Uncle Bulgaria have been seen to slip out with loaded baskets in their paws on the evening beforehand. But naturally this rumour is kept from the youngest Wombles and the fact remains that they always do find something.'
Elisabeth Beresford, The Wombles (Bloomsbury, 2010), p.106.
'Matthew Insists on Puffed Sleeves' from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Novel Excerpt (1908)
Matthew Cuthbert finds the courage to buy Anne the fashionable dress she craves, despite his sister Marilla's disapproval and his own fear of the deed.
This is one of my very favourite books, and it seems time to include another really great classic in the collection. It holds a similar charm to the likes of Little Women and What Katy Did, but it does come from another time and place (20th-century Canada), and is different in many ways. For me the humour is more accessible, the plot less sentimental and the characters more rounded. In this novel, as with Harry Potter and White Boots, Christmas comes with a massive dose of character development. Again it is shown to be the most special time of year, and if we're getting a bit sick of waiting then perhaps this will remind us that Christmas is about our loved ones, and that receiving is merely a necessary part of giving. Of course, the dress isn't just a dress; it is a symbol of everything that Matthew and Anne have done for each other.
'There were some things Matthew could buy and prove himself no mean bargainer; but he knew he would be at the mercy of shopkeepers when it came to buying a girl's dress.'
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables (Wordsworth, 1993), p.181.
'Milly-Molly-Mandy Goes Carol-Singing' by Joyce Lankester Brisley
Illustrations by the author
Short Story (1932)
Milly-Molly-Mandy, Billy Blunt and little-friend-Susan bring joy to the village with their free-of-charge carolling.
What a change in tone from Adrian Mole! As I was re-reading the story, after many years, I thought Millicent Margaret Amanda and the rest of the gang should take money for charity; then it occurred to me that in their world, there are no needy people. These stories are simple, easy to read and perfectly charming. They are some of the first that I used to read to myself, and there is a great deal to enjoy, from the idyllic lives of the characters to some innocently dodgy-sounding titles. I have never forgotten the illustration of the three friends singing their carols, but I had forgotten some of the lovely images in the story, such as the description of the Christmas display in Mrs Muggins's shop window and Mother, Grandma and Aunty mixing the Christmas pudding. Sweet, simple and delightful as we wait for the one-week countdown.
'We could do it outside people's houses on Christmas Eve. Ooh, let's!'
Joyce Lankester Brisley, Further Doings of Milly-Molly-Mandy, The Adventures of Milly-Molly-Mandy (Puffin Books, 1992), p.358.
December 16th-27th from The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend
Novel Excerpt (1984)
Adrian takes us through his baby sister's first Christmas, and spends £2.00 on a 'solid gold chain' for Pandora.
For me, Adrian's second diary is as good as his first, and I think readers of my treasury would enjoy a second dose. Anyway, I would! I was born in the 1980s, and Adrian's list of gifts from Woolworth's - complete with '80s prices - just chokes me up!
'The school's internal Christmas post service is as bad as the GPO's. I posted Pandora a card before assembly but she still hadn't had it by the end of the last lesson.
'I will find out which first-years were on Elf duty today, and severely rebuke them.'
Sue Townsend, Adrian Mole From Minor To Major (Chancellor Press, 1993), p.303.