Every December on the blog I feature Xmas scenes and Xmas books. 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. Today’s is one I’m surprised I’ve never done before.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.
“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.
“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.
The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened at the cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly, “We haven’t got Father, and shall not have him for a long time.” She didn’t say “perhaps never,” but each silently added it, thinking of Father far away, where the fighting was.
Nobody spoke for a minute; then Meg said in an altered tone, “You know the reason Mother proposed not having any presents this Christmas was because it is going to be a hard winter for everyone; and she thinks we ought not to spend money for pleasure, when our men are suffering so in the army. We can’t do much, but we can make our little sacrifices, and ought to do it gladly. But I am afraid I don’t,” and Meg shook her head, as she thought regretfully of all the pretty things she wanted.
“But I don’t think the little we should spend would do any good. We’ve each got a dollar, and the army wouldn’t be much helped by our giving that.”
commentary: This is surely one of the most famous opening lines, and most famous Christmas line, and I’m just surprised I’ve never done it before as a Christmas book. And it was finding the pictures above that made me construct this entry. The top one is from Harper’s Weekly, and is called Santa Claus in Camp according to the Library of Congress – it’s from January 1863, in the middle of the American Civil War. As soon as I saw it I thought of Mr March doing his bit – he’s a chaplain rather than a soldier.
The second picture is from a different magazine in 1873, and the caption (again, Library of Congress) reads ‘New York City - rich and poor; or, the two Christmas dinners - a scene in Washington Market, sketched from real life’. Of course the Alcott books are set elsewhere (Concord, Mass) but the idea of this reminded me that the girls are going to give up their Christmas breakfast to the poor Hummel family…making a connection between the two families that will last. Incidentally in the 3rd book of the sequence, Little Men, featured on the blog at Thanksgiving, there is a Nursey Hummel working at Jo’s school for boys, whom one can only assume to be one of the original family.
Endless more Louisa May Alcott all over the blog – click on the links below – she got a real going-over at the beginning of this year, after a new TV adaptation was shown over Christmas here in the UK.