Ten Days of Christmas

Ten Days of Christmas GB Stern

published 1950

Christmas in the Marketplace by Henri Gheon translated Erik Crozier

first appeared in French in 1935



Many reasons to love this one – a Christmas book by GB Stern, a much-loved and much-featured blog author, and always linked in my mind with equally-loved-and-featured Hilary McKay, who first recommended her to me. Then, favourite themes, the central (very complex) family has theatrical connections, taking a short break over Christmas to gather in a country house and air old grievances and have some dramatic scenes - intended and not. They will of course perform, because actors never give it a rest, and they will also have some rows.

And one more thing – niche, but for the right people absolutely fascinating. GB Stern had links with revered author Antonia Forest (also much  featured on the blog) and anyone reading this will be constantly reminded of AF’s books. The young people are putting on a performance, and the discussions and the sharing of roles and the disasters would very much make you think of Forest. She excelled in describing the process and performance of school plays – particularly in End of Term (1959) but also in Autumn Term (1948) – thus bookending Ten Days – and later Cricket Term (1974).

It is specifically End of Term that comes to mind, because that features the school nativity play staged in a cathedral, and unfairnesses over casting decisions.  (The Prince and the Pauper and The Tempest are the other two). There is a shepherd boy and even a mention of doing the sheep noises off-stage. People say (or don’t say) ‘S’welp me’ as a promise. There’s a Lal. Someone prostrate with grief over a lost part in the play.

And – End of Term is dedicated to GB Stern. While this book, Ten Days, is dedicated to Elizabeth Hassard – several of Forest’s books are dedicated to other members of the Hassard family.

It’s (somewhat) like having what we all wanted: another Antonia Forest book  - for adults, and possibly with a co-writing credit for Daphne du Maurier, it reminded me of books such as The Parasites.

I have said before that it is very hard to work out the relationships within Stern’s extended literary families, so best just to take it on trust and not even try. This particular family is collecting in 1946 for the first time for 8 years, after the interruption of the Second World War. A good sideline is that Clare is a teenager who has spent most of WW2 in the USA – she is concerned that the others will despise her for cowardice and is relieved that they don’t: the book implies that it was bad form to go away to avoid hardship and danger, but that Clare was too young to be blamed.

The performance at the centre is of a real play: Christmas in the Marketplace by Henri Gheon. It’s about a group of gypsies who visit a small town and perform a Christmas Nativity for the locals. It had a certain popularity at the time. I got hold of a copy (translated by Erik Crozier) and read it – it is very charming and must have been an ideal choice for many local communities – there’s an Amazon review from someone who was in it with his youth group 60 years ago, and was delighted to read it again. It was filmed in the 1960s. It would have been an excellent choice for Antonia Forest to feature in one of her books, I could just imagine them giving it a go.

Yet another play features in Ten Days: this time invented for the book. Close family friend  and famous actor Ted is having a huge success in the West End with a play called Pearl of Great Price – and this is important, but seen only in glimpses. And, to add another circle, another character is planning to make fun of Pearl in a skit in a revue, also in the West End. This whole plotline is intriguingly done – you have to make up your own mind. Is the original play embarrassingly terrible (though popular) or real and affecting? Will Ted be horrified and upset by his friend’s takedown? Reading the book a second time made it clearer to me (I think) the authorial hand in this. No-one in the book seems to know where the Pearl of Great Price quotation comes from, and several people say some version of ‘Of course it’s nothing to do with religion’. It is all left to your imagination.

A strange but enjoyable book, and quite different from the others by Stern I have read.

 A living nativity scene, Florida archives.

Picture from a 1950s nativity pageant, Library of Virginia.

Christmas pageant, National Library of Wales.


  1. I always love those tie-ins with other authors and books, Moira. And in this case, there's a tie-in of course to the actual play, which is even more interesting. I can see how it would tick a lot of the boxes for you , too: country house, theatrical family, etc.. It all makes for a good context for the story.

  2. I've never read anything by Stern, but perhaps this would be a good place to start? Country house and theatricals - excellent - reminds me of Mansfield Park, one of my favourite novels. Chrissie

    1. Yes and no! It's an interesting book for a lot of reasons, and I think you would enjoy it, but it wouldn't at all prepare you for her other books, the Middle European famliy ones set in the early 20th century.
      But - I would love to discuss this one with someone, so go ahead 😉 It made me think a lot about children in 1950s novels, as a matter of fact....

    2. Late coming to this, but have had to order a copy straight away, thank you

    3. Thank you! I love hearing that, and hope you enjoy.


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