What is more delightful than sitting inside on a cold, bleak winter’s day and reading a good, cosy book? How about one that embraces the magic of the season as well. Some of my favourite books to read around this time are the ones that take place around Christmas or some wintery festival.
Even in the medieval period people liked to hear Christmas stories, a well-known text from this time period, Sir Gaiwan and the Green Knight takes place at Christmas in the court of King Arthur and features large feasts and festivity, it also features a rather strange feat of a green giant who survives having his head cut off, which sets Gawain off on a quest. In the tradition of earlier Christmas stories, the darkness of the outside world often interrupted and disturbed the warmth of the festivities, but Christian faith always prevailed over the winter cold.
Of course, the Christmas we know and have become familiar with was laid out by Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol in the Victorian Period, and Clement Moore’s famous poem Twas the Night Before Christmas which introduced Father Christmas as a universal symbol for the season. The shaping of the season has always been closely tied to folklore and the fantastical world, and both these writers took obscure traditions and brought a universality to them through their story telling.
Over the years many excellent books have been written that are set around the Christmas season and the best ones are those that embrace a little bit of darkness to counterbalance the happiness of the Christmas spirit. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis begins in a land covered in snow and trapped in eternal winter, but when the Pevensie children bring hope back to the land Christmas returns to signify the breaking of the White Witch’s power over the land. And the appearance of Father Christmas is one of the most important parts of the book, because it is here that the Pevensies are given giftss to help them in their quest.
Susan Cooper’s masterpiece The Dark is Rising takes a different approach to Lewis. In Cooper’s book a young boy named Will is thrust into a battle between Good and Evil during the Christmas season and must navigate the dangers that surround him while keeping his family none the wiser. The presentation of Christmas is nostalgic as it is set in the backdrop of England in the 1960’s, but even so the book feels timeless as most of the traditions featured such as carol singing, and Christmas dinner are perfectly familiar to us all. The evil that lurks in the background of the season is counteracted by the homeliness and joy that Cooper’s descriptions of Christmas provide.
Lastly in fantasy literature there is one book that stand out as the must read for Christmas, Hogfather by Terry Pratchett. This is not a book set at Christmas, however Hogfather has an awful lot in common with our Christmas, as the Hogfather is a jolly figure who flies around the Discworld to give children presents, he just uses boars rather than reindeer. The Hogfather is a book that explores our beliefs and why we need such things to be human. Much of what Pratchett tells us about Christmas in this book is that it is a much-needed time to embrace our human side and inspire hope and joy.
So, embrace the festive season in whatever way suits you, and perhaps explore the lessons that each of these books tells us about this season.