Over the last few weeks, we’ve talked about Christmas traditions, sharing our families’ favorite movies, music and rituals.
Before we move on from Christmas, there is another ritual in my family that I am betting no one else shares.
For nearly as long as I can remember, every Christmas Eve, after dinner, while we are still at the table, my father has read Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales in his best Richard Burton accent.
We and our children have learned to sit patiently and listen to the story. Joking groans sound around the table as my father pulls the weathered booklet from his vest pocket, clears his throat and begins, “One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”
Even though the recitation comes at the very moment of the whole season when I am most apt to nod off, I find the story engaging. I imagine a cold December night, smoke swirling from the chimneys of early 20th century Wales. It is truly one of the most beautifully written pieces in modern literature.
We have come to know the characters in the story. Mrs. Prothero might as well be at the table with us, as she and the other characters have become part of our Christmas family. There are several parts where we all chime in, having memorized the lines. Here are just a few of our favorites. I defy you to not read these in your best Richard Burton accent.
About winter in Wales:
“It was always snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But there were cats.”
“I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.”
“Men and women wading or scooping back from chapel, with taproom noses and wind-bussed cheeks”
About the Christmas presents:
“Once I had a little crocheted nose bag from an aunt now, alas, no longer whinnying with us. And pictureless books in which small boys, though warned with quotations not to, would skate on Farmer Giles’ pond and did and drowned; and books that told me everything about the wasp, except why.”
“Hardboileds, toffee, fudge and allsorts, crunches, cracknels, humbugs, glaciers, marzipan, and butterwelsh for the Welsh.”
About the family:
“There are always Uncles at Christmas. The same Uncles…Some few large men sat in the front parlors, without their collars, Uncles almost certainly, trying their new cigars, holding them out judiciously at arms’ length, returning them to their mouths, coughing, then holding them out again as though waiting for the explosion; and some few small aunts, not wanted in the kitchen, nor anywhere else for that matter, sat on the very edge of their chairs, poised and brittle, afraid to break, like faded cups and saucers.”
“After dinner the Uncles sat in front of the fire, loosened all buttons, put their large moist hands over their watch chains, groaned a little and slept. Mothers, aunts and sisters scuttled to and fro, bearing tureens. Auntie Bessie, who had already been frightened, twice, by a clock-work mouse, whimpered at the sideboard and had some elderberry wine… Auntie Dosie had to have three aspirins, but Auntie Hannah, who liked port, stood in the middle of the snowbound back yard, singing like a big-bosomed thrush.”
I wonder if Macy’s has any crocheted nose bags left.