Christmas Carols on Christmas Eve

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

published 1931

Carol singers country child 2

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.

Carol Singers Country child

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.


  1. There's something about that tradition of wandering carolers, isn't there, Moira? I like the way it's described, too - almost magical. I can see why you thought the Christmas scenes in this one were especially good.

    1. It's so festive, and I think all of us like to read something like this at Christmas - such a contrast to our grown-up, cynical lives.

  2. I'm pretty sure that I've read Uttley's memories of Xmas, but as part of some bigger collection rather than the original THE COUNTRY CHILD book. They are really beautiful and magical, but I suspect that it's the sort of thing that would be hard to recapture nowadays. There is a telly advert showing at the moment where parents are telling their kids that they are having a traditional Xmas this year. The youngsters look crestfallen until the adults burst out laughing and reassure them that they are only joking. We're too used to our TVs and computers and music downloads to manage easily without them. I wonder if people a century hence will look back at our festive season with nostalgia.

    Peter Lovesey was the advisor on that defunct mystery show ROSEMARY AND THYME, and he did write a little novella about the characters which was reprinted in MURDER ON THE SHORTLIST. It's an Xmas tale, and there's a lovely bit at the beginning where one of them is housesitting for a friend during the holidays. It's a small village, and the local busybody makes a point of coming round every year with a plate of Mince Pies. The (invented) tradition is that she gives one of her pies out and gets one back from teh householder. Because our heroine obviously doesn't know this, the local woman starts to become snappish and irritated, and it did make me think that if there were more people actually coming round your house on Xmas Eve, you might start locking the door and turning the lights out!

    Very Merry Xmas Moira
    best wishes from

    1. that defunct mystery show ROSEMARY AND THYME

      Alas for the "defunct" part of that. The series is a huge favorite in this house.

    2. I had no idea Peter Lovesey was connected with that show - a much-missed favourite with some people close to me too - and that sounds like a great story.

      A very happy Christmas to you ggary, and best wishes for 2018.

  3. No Christmas story will ever top A Child's Christmas in Wales, when Miss Prothero asks the fire brigade if they would like something to read.

    I am looking at the snow falling in soft drifts outside my windows this afternoon and thinking of snow "shawling out of the ground."

    1. I do like the The Child's Christmas, but am now wondering which festive book is my greatest favourite...
      We very rarely have snow in my part of the UK at Xmas, but we did have a light fall on the 27th this year, very festive...

  4. I'm with Shay on this - Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales is just perfect, but I love The Country Child as well.

    1. I very much like Mary Clive's Christmas with the Savages, and there are a few children's books - like Raymond Briggs Father Christmas - which are eternal favourites in our house.

  5. Sorry, extremely thin pickings of late. Another pass

    1. I just said that myself in another reply to you!


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