Every year I do a series of Xmas entries on the blog, helped and encouraged by suggestions and recommendations from my lovely readers. If you use Pinterest you can see some of the beautiful seasonal pictures on this page, and you can find (endless!) more Xmas books via the labels at the bottom of the page.
The Country Child by Alison Uttley
Susan hung up her stocking at the foot of the bed and fell asleep. But soon singing roused her, and she sat up, bewildered. Yes, it was the carol-singers.
Margaret came running upstairs and wrapped her in a blanket. She took her across the landing to her own room, and pulled up the linen blind.
Outside under the stars she could see the group of men and women with lanterns throwing beams across the paths and on to the stable door. One man stood apart beating time, another played a fiddle, and another had a flute. The rest sang in four parts the Christmas hymns, ‘While shepherds watched’, ‘Come All Ye Faithful’, and ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’.
There was the star, Susan could see it twinkling and bright in the dark boughs with their white frosted layers, and there was the stable. She watched the faces half lit by lanterns, top-coats pulled up to their necks. The music of the violin came thin and squeaky, like a singing icicle, blue and cold, but magic, and the flute was warm like the voices.
They stopped and waited a moment. Tom’s deep voice came from the darkness. They trooped, chattering and puffing out their cheeks, and clapping their arms round their bodies to the front door. They were going into the parlour for elderberry wine and their collection money. A bright light flickered across the snow as the door was flung wide open. Then a bang, and Susan went back to bed.
Christmas Eve was nearly over, but tomorrow was Christmas Day, the best day in all the year. She shut her eyes and fell asleep.
commentary: In an earlier post on this book – for Bonfire Night – I explained that I found parts of this country-childhood-fictionalized reminiscience rather wearying. But the Christmas section is wonderful, entrancing and magical.
There are two full and satisfying chapters, covering all manner of seasonal activities, and I could (and probably will) do several entries. I was particularly happy to read a description of travelling singers at Christmas, more or less a lost tradition now, and the book gives double joy, as there are guisers also. These are mummers, travelling round performing in people’s houses at Christmas. The ones in the book are big on riddles and games: they are in disguise, and the final game is guessing who they are.
Susan also describes her presents, her stocking, dinner and church. It would take a heart of stone not to be touched.
Mummers feature in Murder goes Mumming last week.
The top picture of children with big star is from NYPL
The second picture is Christmas Carols by Nikolia Pimonenko, from the Athenaeum site.