An illustration of literary characters sharing a table
An illustration of literary characters sharing a table

So, how's your Christmas shaping up? Ordered the meat in? Decked the halls with boughs of holly? Found any NYE party invitations on your doormat?

Me neither. As Bing Crosby didn't quite sing, it's beginning to look nothing at all like Christmas. But that's not to say we can't live a vicarious festive season through books.

Whether it's a heart-warming yuletide nostalgia-fest you're after, or a stark reminder that no matter how bad your holiday season is looking right now, it could be a lot worse, fiction covers all the angles. After all, what has fiction been these past seven months if not a welcome escape from viruses and doom?

So here, from Zadie Smith to Charles Dickens, Irvine Welsh to C. S. Lewis, are some of our most memorable (though not always enjoyable) festive scenes in literature. Happy holidays.

 

Anne's puff-sleeved Christmas present

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery (1908)

“Christmas morning broke on a beautiful white world... The firs in the Haunted Wood were all feathery and wonderful; the birches and wild cherry trees were outlined in pearl; the plowed fields were stretches of snowy dimples; and there was a crisp tang in the air that was glorious. Anne ran downstairs singing until her voice reechoed through Green Gables.”

Was there ever a passage that made you want to make snow angels and listen to Wham! more than that?

Anne has always dreamed of a dress with puffed sleeves, so Matthew shyly buys it for her: “Oh, how pretty it was... but the sleeves – they were the crowning glory! Long elbow cuffs, and above them two beautiful puffs divided by rows of shirring and bows of brown-silk ribbon.”

Anne's eyes fill with tears, she finally feels at home at Green Gables, and Christmas kindness wins the day.

Begbie's Christmas dinner

Reheated Cabbage by Irvine Welsh (2009)

As previously discussed, no matter how bad your Christmas might be looking, thank Beira the Scottish god of winter you won't be spending it with Francis Begbie from Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting.

And in Elspeth's Boyfriend, the third story in Welsh's collection, not even Christmas Day is spared from Begbie's unwavering commitment to unprovoked violence.

When the moustachioed hard man heads to his mum's for Christmas dinner, his day is ruined before it's begun when his sister invites her fancy new boyfriend Greg along. “What really wound ays up wis thit eh wis cairryin a bunch ay floois. Floois, oan f***in Christmas Day!” observes Begbie. 

And sure enough, as the day wears on, his ire for Greg darkens into a blood-red mist. He gets a football shirt he hates, doesn't get to watch James Bond on telly, and eventually headbutts his new brother-in-law-to-be at the dinner table, ruining Christmas, but staying true to himself. 

Santa's arrival in Narnia

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis (1950)

"Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!"

She can hear your thoughts, control the seasons and her cackle carries on the wind like an untreatable airborne virus. The White Witch, whose hate-fuelled power is so absolute that she has plunged Narnia into an everlasting freeze, is an anti-Santa of spite who even travels by sleigh and reindeer just to rub her subjects noses in it.

So when, near the end of the book, the merry sound of sleigh bells echo on the wind before a huge man rolls up “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", we know Narnia's fortunes must be on the up.

He's not, of course, a modern-day Santa, all ho-hos, hugs and wholesome toys. This is war and he's here to fight. So his gifts for the Pevensie kids are lethal weapons to defeat the White Witch once and for all. 

The Alconbury's New Year's Day Turkey Curry Buffet

Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding (1996)

“December 25, weight 140 pounds plus 42 mince pies. Alcohol units, oh, thousands.”

And so the yuletide spirit passes happily over Bridget, leaving her to wallow in that special brand of Christmassy boyfriendless funk, puffing away on fags, staring down empty bottles and shouting “bugger off” at carol singers.

But her festive nightmare does not truly begin until she is dragged to a family friends annual New Year's Day Turkey Curry Buffet, where she meets Mark Darcy in a hideous jumper, setting in motion the total trampling of Bridget's self-esteem over a buffet table of curried turkey and chat about books she hasn't read... the most delightfully cringeworthy festive encounter ever put to paper. Still, she finds a silver lining:

"2am: ... Hate the New Year. Hate everyone. Except Daniel Cleaver. Anyway, have got giant tray-sized bar of Cadbury's Dairy Milk left over from Christmas on dressing table, also amusing joke gin and tonic miniature. Am going to consume them and have fag.

The 'End of the World' New Year's Eve party

White Teeth by Zadie Smith (2000)

Zadie Smith's debut novel opens with an almost-suicide on New Year's Day 1975 as Archie triesto gas himself to death in his car in the wee hours of the morning after. No dice. He soon finds himself at the aftermath of a hippy “End of the World” New Year's Eve party. And what a party he missed.

“Detritus of every variety – animal, mineral, vegetable – lined the floor; a great mass of bedding, under which people lay sleeping ... a red sea which grudgingly separated each time Archie took a step forward. Inside the rooms, in certain corners, could be witnessed the passing of bodily fluids: kissing, breast-feeding, f***ing, throwing up – all the things Archie's Sunday Supplement informed him could be found in a commune.”

And there, amid this wreckage of Bacchanalian excess he meets Clara who “came striding down the stairs … like some kind of vision” The fireworks go off and there begins the rollercoaster of their lives.

Christmas at Hogwarts

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling (1997)

“The hall looked spectacular. Festoons of holly and mistletoe hung all around the walls, and no less than twelve towering Christmas trees stood around the room, some sparkling with tiny icicles, some glittering with hundreds of candles.”

There's no place like Christmas at Hogwarts. And when Harry and pals elect to stay at school for Christmas they pull out all the stops. And if that's not enough to cook your goose, here's the meal:

“A hundred fat, roast turkeys; mountains of roast and boiled potatoes; platters of chipolatas; tureens of buttered peas, silver boats of thick rich gravy and cranberry sauce—and stacks of wizard crackers every few feet along the table.”

As for Wizard Crackers, don't expect novelty-sized nail clippers and a joke about mince spies hiding in bakeries. No, it's more witches' hats topped with stuffed vultures, live white mice and grow-your-own-warts kits. We all want a magical Christmas, but come on.

All of A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843)

You didn't think we'd pay homage to festive fiction without a mention of the most Christmassy Christmas novel of all time, did you? It's the godfather of Christmas tales, the bible of festive fables, the book that, more than any other, basically invented the Victorian Christmas.

No need for a proper synopsis; we all know the plot: ice-hearted Christmas harrumpher hates all people, effectively cancels Christmas for his impoverished clerk whose sickly son needs a festive lift more than anyone. Then three time-travelling ghosts appear to the old Scrooge in the dead of night to show him the errors of his humbugging ways. Ice-heart melts, goodwill pulls through and Christmas wins the war.

God bless us, everyone.

Image: Mica Murphy/Penguin

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