Friday, 27 November 2015

Christmas Reading Rituals by Lynn Huggins-Cooper

For my sister and I, our festive annuals were one of the great highlights of a visit from Father Christmas. I remember hissed whispers of 'I think he's been!' as the deliciously heavy stocking was felt for in the darkness, at the foot of the bed. Satsuma in one hand, selection box open at the ready, the reading would commence. 

I grew up in a reading rich household. Our Saturdays were spent truffling through Mr. Lane's second hand bookshop, and buying american comic books in Brighton (preferably blood-curdling supernatural titles); the whole family always had at least a book apiece on the go and a stack of 'to-reads.' Christmas was no different. Everyone got books for Christmas, and for us children the annual was the crowning glory. 

Teddy Bear, Twinkle and Pussy Cat Willum, then later Beano, Dandy, Whizzer and Chips.  

My football mad sister also got football annuals - Shoot, I think - and I remember Roy of the Rovers.

As time passed, and we grew older, these made way for Bunty, Judy, Mandy and more - until we got to the closing act of Jackie Magazine's annual. Style bible; crush-fest (Marc Bolan, Bryan Ferry, since you ask) and more for the 1970s teen.

We read our own annuals, then swapped and read each other's. Those books were wise purchases on the part of my parents - over the years, they must have been worth their weight in gold in extra hours of sleep until we made them get up to look at our Christmas bounty. I cherish the memory of those companionable early Christmas morning reading-and-munching sessions. 

There were other Christmas reading rituals in the Huggins household though. The must-read Christmas Carol, which I continue to enjoy yearly and the message found inside still speaks to my heart. I still, at 51, have a childlike sense of anticipation about Christmas. I love the baking, the decorations, the singing and the get-togethers. As Dickens himself said, 

'It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.'

 A Christmas Carol

I have enjoyed boozy, student Christmases; those glorious years when the children were young and full of wonder and now, rather more grown-up celebrations once again as the wheel of life turns. Christmas Eve is still, and always will be my favourite, most magical night of the year - there's just something timeless about it. I look back and see all those fifty-odd Christmases, one inside another in a kaleidoscope of love and colour. I don't remember most of the toys I received as a child (although I remember the rather stunning picnic hamper with tiny girl-sized cups and saucers I received from Father Christmas one year - hard to forget, when Father Christmas arrives on a fire engine. To be fair, Dad was a fireman...) - but I do remember the books. I still have many of them, and have read them to my own children and grandchildren. My own children got a new 'Christmas book' apiece each year, so traditional continued. 

Then we come to planning the feast. I love Christmas cookery books. I still swear by Delia (old, battered, covered in sauce and wine splashes - the book, not the lovely Ms. Smith) and love Nigella's Christmas - and bringing out those books heralds the start of the season. I love pondering over what to make this year. 


I even buy myself a 'Christmas book' each year - just one, as a special treat. I am a sucker for silly, romantic Christmas stories myself - the one time of the year when I read 'soppy' books. It's a guilty secret - but you won't tell anyone, I'm sure. It's between us...ahem.

So - what are your Christmas reading rituals? (and if you don't have any, perhaps this is the year to start.) I'd love to hear them. The next time I write a blog entry here, the turkey will be a memory and the crackers will have been pulled. I'll not be in a post-Boxing Day slump though. I'll be propped up in front of the fire with a port; my nose buried in a book (hopefully brought by Father Christmas). I hope all of your Christmas gifts are book-shaped and that you have a wonderful festive season. See you next month!


Emma Barnes said...

That's a lovely post, Lynn, even though I myself have to admit to having a big "Bah! Humbug!" side...

Susan Price said...

Yes, lovely post - a bit like a warm Christmas hug.
I'm not a complete Bah-Humbugger about Christmas, Emma - though I am most of the rest of the year. It's Christmas' ancient pagan roots that appeal to me most - more Yule than Christ's mass.
But reading rituals - ghost stories! Both re-read, told and watched. M R James, Le Fanu, Dickens.

Ms. Yingling said...

Oddly, BOTH of my parents had British annuals from the early 1940s, and I spent hours reading those. I think one of my uncles was working across the pond. It took a while before I figured out why they seemed a bit odd (primrose day?), but I still have both of them. What a great idea on the part of the publishers. Such a great variety of material in a big, fat book!

Anonymous said...

Every year at the start of advent our box of Christmas books comes down from the attic, with all the Christmas books we've collected over the years. Even now the children are older, they still love to see their old favourites coming out again. The one I read every year is Joyce Dunbar and Gary Blythe's wonderful This is the star. Breath-taking illustrations and a compelling re-telling of the story in a beautifully simple form.

catdownunder said...

The only toy I remember getting as a child was, at the age of three, a "train toy" set. I have no idea why I called it this and not a toy train set. (It was a Hornby engine with two carriages and a track you could put in a figure of eight. I loved it and cried when my mother told me she had given it away some years later.) Apart from that I was usually given a book and yes, I still have those books.

LynnHC said...

Thanks folks :) Consider yourselves all the recipients of a 'warm Christmas hug' :) I like that idea very much :)

Dani Garrard said...


Liz W said...

I always re-read Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising on Xmas Eve, and usually a few Christmas-set detective stories and some fantasy (my friend Patricia's Blackmantle is a favourite as part of it is seasonal). Also love cookery books!

Abbeybufo said...

Yes, I go back to Susan Cooper each year, and Jenny Overton's Thirteen Days of Christmas, too!