The Hummels’ Christmas morning breakfast in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

Given that my Christmas breakfast generally comprises a piece of toast and a mouthful of cheap chocolate stolen from my child’s stocking on my way to the shower, I doubt the Hummels would be very grateful for it. Fortunately, they – famously – are given the March sisters’ breakfast and in nineteenth century Massachusetts they do these things properly. Meg covers the buckwheats and piles bread into one big plate, Amy offers to take the cream and muffins (the things she most likes – this is SO Amy), and everyone else loads up on wood for the fire and old clothes with which to stuff broken windows and dress the impoverished family. They are called “angel children” by the grateful family and go home to breakfast on simple bread and milk, feeling as nourished by Christian charity as the Hummels do on homemade buckwheats. Whatever they may be.

The Ingalls celebrate Christmas in May in The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series is pretty much one long exercise in appreciating the wonder of every moment and every bounty that comes your way, and never more so than in The Long Winter, when the Ingalls’ entire town is cut off from the world for seven months by the blizzards howling across the frozen endless prairie and people come close to starvation. No trains are able to reach them until the thaw – and they end up celebrating Christmas in May. Their delayed presents arrive – a shawl for Ma, embroidery silks for the girls – and neighbours gather at Laura’s house for a feast of turkey, bread, butter, potatoes, gravy and apple pie. Not even the Hummels can have enjoyed their meal more.

When Matthew gives Anne the dress of her dreams in Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Everybody needs a good cry at Christmas, don’t they? That’s what carol services and primary school nativity plays are for. But in case you’d rather do your festive sobbing in private, there’s always Matthew taking his courage in both hands to procure Anne Shirley a dress with the puffed sleeves of her dreams. I won’t say any more.

Just…pass me a handkerchief, would you?

Stella Gibbons’ Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm: in which satire is alive and well

But you also need a laugh and there is no better place to turn than to Stella Gibbons, who revisits (in a short story set before the revolutionary arrival of Flora Poste) the scene of her most famous creation; the seat of the Starkadders, Cold Comfort Farm. ‘It was Christmas Eve,’ runs the opening line. ‘Dusk, a filthy mantle, lay over Sussex…’ Mould is being scraped off a jar of mincemeat, Adam is dressed as Santa Claus and preparing to fill the stockings that night ‘if I’m spared.’ And you know you are back in safe satirical hands once more.

When the Large Family take pity on Sara in A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The first Christmas after Sara Crewe’s father dies, leaving her penniless and reduced to servanthood at Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies is – understandably – not great. And it becomes worse when one of the children of the Large Family (through the windows of whose family home she has been gazing) is filled with seasonal goodwill and, remembering the many stories ’about children who were poor and had no mammas and papas to fill their stockings and take them to the pantomime’ he has recently heard, insists on giving her sixpence. Sara’s cheeks burn with shame but, understanding his intentions and unwilling to hurt his feelings, takes it with thanks despite her mortification.

Don’t worry, Sara. Next Christmas will be better.

The sharing of presents in What Katy Did at School by Susan Coolidge

The Carrs, at boarding school, are the only students whose Christmas boxes make it through the snow from home in time. After marvelling over the beautiful, thoughtful presents from everyone at home (Papa sends Katy and Clover a delicate necklace each, Elsie a pair of knitted hoods, Cousin Helen glove cases, books from Dorry, ink stands from Phil and Johnnie), they unpack the multitude of edible treats and make up parcels for the rest of the girls, full of Debbie’s jumbles, ginger snaps, crullers, frosted plum cake, figs, prunes, almonds, hickory nuts, fruit and everything else a schoolful of young ladies might need to keep seasonal body and soul together. And in the sharing – whaddya know?! – is found the true meaning of Christmas. 

When Christmas comes to Narnia after years of banishment in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

’Always winter and never Christmas – think of that!’

The White Witch has made it so in Narnia. But eventually, thanks to the Pevensie children and Aslan her powers start to wane. The first sign is a group of satyrs and small animals enjoying a Christmas dinner, and eventually the sound of sleigh bells is heard and through the woods and melting snow comes Father Christmas ’in a bright red robe with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest.’

C. S. Lewis knew what Narnia, and his readers, needed.

Bah humbug! A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Come on – you didn’t really think we were going to leave without bringing in the granddaddy of all Christmas stories (apart from, you know, the ACTUAL Christmas story), did you?

Christmas Eve. Ebenezer Scrooge. The ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim. Victoriana in full flood. The thawing of a man’s glacial heart. The milk of human kindness beginning to course through his warming veins. Realisation, repentance, redemption – and a merry Christmas after all. God bless us, every one!

More from VINTAGE this Christmas

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