When I was small, my mother would read us the ten daily stories leading to the 25th from Enid Blyton’s A Christmas Book (since republished, along with other seasonal offerings, as Christmas Stories). I was especially fond of the Yule Log (if disappointed year after year that it was not the chocolate kind), and mistletoe-victim Balder the Beautiful, which gave my small self angsty pangs and a bit of a crush.
More recently, I’ve tried to reread Susan Cooper’s magnificent The Dark Is Rising - a classic I only read after my sister took me to an amazing theatre production when I was a teen - on Christmas Eve, usually leaving it far too late to get past the first few chapters. Then there’s a slight cheat: The Children of Green Knowe is a book I find hard going (despite loving others in the series as a child) but the BBC 1980s adaptation is the annual soundtrack to putting up the tree, wobbly soundtrack and all.
I write for children; it’s not unusual for me to read - and reread - children’s fiction. But my nostalgic urge come December to recreate something - an atmosphere, a feeling - from that time of my small angst-pang self feels like something more akin to homesickness, or its Welsh cousin, hiraeth: a longing for a past place, perhaps one that has never been. I feel it whenever Greg Lake’s I Believe in Father Christmas twiddles along and revives my strange kidlike adoration for ‘eyes full of twinkles and smiles,’ and complete obliviousness to the ENTIRE REST OF THE SONG.
I am reminded of my niece who, on her first Christmas of ‘knowing’ (perhaps a year younger than might have been ideal), declared mournfully, ‘It’s not the same.’ I think I want it to be the same.
And of course it’s not the same. Our families grow and shrink and grow around us; the places we call home shift. New traditions come and moss the gaps. Not the same, but good, and ours, and before long beloved.
So this year - when I feel as human beings we’ve all done quite a lot of ‘knowing,’ maybe a bit more than we’d have liked - I think I’ll read something new.
Susie Day - books for kids about families, feelings, friendship and funny stuff
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