This is the first time I have read The Christmas Book despite having bought it from Su over a year ago. I had planned to leave it until Christmas-time to read but I managed to lose it! Well, it wasn’t really lost – it was on one of my shelves the whole time but I kept missing it as the lettering on the spine has faded away to nothing. My copy is the third printing from 1946 which was given as a Christmas gift by Marlene in 1946.
From the descriptions of The Christmas Book found on the internet it sounds like it is one of Blyton’s traditional family stories – and this was what I was expecting when I opened it. It turns out that it’s rather more along the lines of Rambles with Uncle Nat or large parts of the Farm Series. The family setting is really just a vehicle for Blyton to impart a large number of stories, myths and facts on the subject of Christmas traditions. Interestingly Blyton thanks a friend of hers, L. Brimble, for giving her much of the facts that she wrote the book around. Usually Blyton’s books were written with little conscious effort, rather than being planned or researched.
I actually found every story within the book interesting, and the majority of it was new information to me (which I’m sure I will take great joy in imparting to my friends and family over the Christmas season – they’ll soon be sick of me saying “did you know…”) The book covers the origins of just about every Christmas tradition – some of which are still deeply ingrained in our Christmas celebrations and others which are rather more uncommon these days. It covers Christmas cards, mistletoe, Yule logs, mumming, wassailing, Santa Claus, stockings, gift giving, carols, holly, the Christmas tree, as well as telling the story of the birth of Christ.
In the foreword Blyton writes:
“There is no time of the year at which we honour more old customs than at Christmas time. The whole season is full of them and their beginnings go back down the centuries into the mists of time. We keep many of these old customs without knowing their meaning – but it adds much more to their interest if we know how they began, where and why… This book tells the story of a family who like to keep Christmas properly, and in the course of the story, most of the old customs are explained in, I hope, an interesting and natural way, so that the child reader will learn and enjoy at one and the same time.”
Unfortunately, at a few points in the book (mostly early on), I found the introduction of some of the stories to be a little contrived and unnatural (possibly due to the manner in which the book was written as I mentioned earlier) though I’m sure a child reader would not have had this problem. I was also a little disappointed that the mother, on being asked the origins of a tradition, almost always said something along the lines of oh, I don’t know, I’m not very clever – you’ll have to ask Daddy when he comes in from work. She might as well have said I’m just a woman and housewife! Clever old Daddy, though, managed to be a bit offensive at one point – after explaining what people from long ago believed about mistletoe he called them “ignorant” which I found a bit cruel – they formed beliefs based on the information and knowledge they had available to them at the time. Those beliefs may seem laughable to us now, but then again, I’m sure plenty of things Daddy would have believed true in the 1940s would be laughable to you or I (smoking is good for your health, for example).
Contrivances and gender stereotypes aside, the tellings of the origins themselves are well written. They are long enough to include enough of the facts but not so long that they become dull. I actually read one of the stories aloud to my other half (who has no interest in Blyton) and he listened to it all and found it very interesting (probably because it was a retelling of Norse mythology, but still, progress!)
The illustrations are by Treyer Evans (who did some of the books in the Find-Outers series) and they’re very nice. Unusually, there are two styles of image. Most are regular line drawing with a little shading (fairly similar to his work on the Find-Outers books) but others are silhouettes of the characters. There are illustrations of the family going about their Christmas preparations and celebrations as well as several of the myths, historical scenes and of the nativity story. It also has rather nice coloured endpapers (which for a moment I thought had been carefully coloured in by a previous owner!)
One of my favourite parts was when the youngest, Ann, heard Santa Claus landing on the roof of the house. One year I could have sworn I had heard a bump and jingling from the roof of my house but I didn’t end up having cocoa with Santa so maybe it was just my parents in the loft fetching the presents?
Have any of you read this book, or is it something you’d like to read? For those of you who have read it what did you think of it? Did you learn anything?