Finding Christmas in kids’ books
The theme of Christmas is often used as the setting for your favourite kids’ stories- and book-series’ characters to appear.
Sometimes the setting will be Christmas dinner, other times it’s a gift-opening — and often it’s both.
I tutor Athabasca University’s ENGL 305, Classics of Children’s Literature. At least six of the novels on the course make some reference to Christmas, and one, Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth, describes a Saturnalia festival in ancient Britain.
Christmas isn’t the focus in any of these books, but it nonetheless makes an appearance. The holiday also finds its way into books you might not expect. One of my favourite passages about Christmas comes from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows —Chapter V, Dulce Domum. Rat and Mole are journeying home one cold evening to Rat’s house on the river Bank, and Mole is drawn away from the road by the scent of his old home. Mole is dismayed at the sight of his neglected and dusty home, and Rat organizes and impromptu feast to cheer his little friend, while a group of field mice appear on the doorstep to sing carols and join the feast.
Another favourite, Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer, actually ends on Christmas Day — an odd way to conclude a book that features a kidnapping, fairy police armed with futuristic weapons, a giant bodyguard named Butler, and a boy genius who is intent on separating the fairies from their gold.
You can usually find two things as part of Christmas in kid’s books: presents and food. Here are passages from three of the books on my course that feature the giving of presents. The food and feasting come later.
Anne of Green Gables, L. M. Montgomery
(Anne receives a dress with puffed sleeves from Matthew on Christmas morning.)
Christmas morning broke on a beautiful white world. It had been a very mild December and people had looked forward to a green Christmas; but just enough snow fell softly in the night to transfigure Avonlea. Anne peeped out from her frosted gable window with delighted eyes. The firs in the Haunted Wood were all feathery and wonderful; the birches and wild cherry trees were outlined in pearl; the plowed fields were stretches of snowy dimples; and there was a crisp tang in the air that was glorious.
Anne ran downstairs singing until her voice reechoed through Green Gables.
“Merry Christmas, Marilla! Merry Christmas, Matthew! Isn’t it a lovely Christmas? I’m so glad it’s white. Any other kind of Christmas doesn’t seem real, does it? I don’t like green Christmases. They’re not green– they’re just nasty faded browns and grays. What makes people call them green? Why–why–Matthew, is that for me? Oh, Matthew!”– Anne of Green Gables, Chapter XXV
Matthew had sheepishly unfolded the dress from its paper swathings and held it out with a deprecatory glance at Marilla, who feigned to be contemptuously filling the teapot, but nevertheless watched the scene out of the corner of her eye with a rather interested air.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J. K. Rowling
(Harry’s first Christmas at Hogwarts. One of his presents is the invisibility cloak.)
On Christmas Eve, Harry went to bed looking forward to the next day for the food and the fun, but not expecting any presents at all. When he woke early in the morning, however, the first thing he saw was a small pile of packages at the foot of his bed.
“ “Merry Christmas,” said Ron sleepily as Harry scrambled out of bed and pulled on his bathrobe. “You, too,” said Harry. “Will you look at this? I’ve got some presents!” “What did you expect, turnips?” said Ron, turning to his own pile, which was a lot bigger than Harry’s.”
Harry picked up the top parcel. It was wrapped in thick brown paper and scrawled across it was To Harry, from Hagrid. Inside was a roughly cut wooden flute. Hagrid had obviously whittled it himself. Harry blew it — it sounded a bit like an owl.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis
(The Pevensie children meet Father Christmas in Narnia—a sure sign that the power of the White Witch is on the wane.)
And then they were all at the top and did see. It was a sledge, and it was reindeer with bells on their harness. But they were far bigger than the Witch’s reindeer, and they were not white but brown. And on the sledge sat a person whom everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him. He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as holly berries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest.
Everyone knew him because, though you see people of his sort only in Narnia, you see pictures of them and hear them talked about even in our world — the world on this side of the wardrobe door. But when you really see them in Narnia it is rather different. Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.
“I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.”
And Lucy felt running through her that deep shiver of gladness which you only get if you are being solemn and still.
““And now,” said Father Christmas, “for your presents.””
Bill Thompson is totally blind, and he tutors ENGL 305: Literature for Children at Athabasca University. His stories have appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, The Danforth Review, and Literary Orphans. He has two collections of stories—The Paper Man and Other Stories, and Fractured and Other Fairy Tales—both available on Amazon, and he maintains a website and blog at Of OtherWorlds.ca. Currently, he is working on a young adult novel set in a post-pandemic future.
Montgomery, L. M. Anne of Green Gables. Project Gutenberg, 1992, Chapter XXV. Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Bloomsbury Publishing, illustrated by Levi Pinfold, 2017, p. 214. Lewis, C. S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Project Gutenberg Canada, 2014, Chapter X.