Christmas Nostalgia

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever - Barbara Robinson Father Christmas - Raymond Briggs Father Christmas Goes on Holiday (Picture Puffin) by Briggs, Raymond (1995) Paperback - Raymond Briggs


For those of us who celebrate this holiday, you really can't go back to recapture those feelings you had as a kid on Christmas. I have found that, as the years go on, I'm having less of a connection to the holiday season in general. While my real love still focused on Halloween, as a kid, the glitzy, frenzied season of Christmas was always fun, too, of course, especially with our family get togethers where my sister, my cousin, and I all shared our new toys and ate all the tasty treats, fragrant tangerines and orange flavored chocolate. Our mom's new perfumes we bought for them mixed with the piney smell of the Christmas tree to make the smell of Christmas. Of course, the commercialization of the holiday may have added to this feeling rather than detracted from it.


The closest I can come to recapturing the feeling, I think, is by reading some of the books I enjoyed for the holidays as a child, the books we made into quiet, little traditions to reread as we were decorating the Christmas tree, riding home from Christmas shopping at the (long defunct) Conservatory in downtown Minneapolis, baking cookies. These three were our favorites.



Somewhere, my parents obtained a cassette copy of this audiobook, and it became a tradition for the reminder of childhood to listen to it in the car while Christmas shopping. On a recent family gathering, I decided to revisit this Christmas tale, using my iPhone this time. It did not take long for the memories to come flowing back, courtesy of the expressive and memorable voice work by the late Elaine Stritch. Running at less than an hour, the story is fast paced, funny, and even a little heartwarming, if you're into that; “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” has not lost its ability to deliver rambunctious laughs and even some messages. Barbara Robinson definitely endows her narrative with a humor that still has kick and characters who will remain with you.

For those who did not have the pleasure of listening to (or reading) this classic as kids, it revolves around a small town terrorized by a local family of little ruffians, the Herdmans, known equally for their perfidy as well as their cunning. They burn down small buildings, shoplift, smoke cigars; why, they even take the name of the Lord in vain. Oh my GAWD! I know! Really, the worst juvenile delinquents a small 20th century American town could possibly face, right down to their mailman intimidating cat. The narrator, a “normal” girl and her “normal” family considers Sunday School the one place in town safe from the depredations of the Herdmans, until her mother takes over the dead boring annual Christmas pageant and her brother accidentally lets it be known that free refreshments are to be had in church to the Herdmans (a lie that takes on a life of its own).

The setting is a little bit dated, and was even in the early nineties, (what with the cigar smoking and lack of “No Child Left Behind” testing) and the Herdman’s insults can come off lacking many modern niceties but still holds onto a lot of universal feelings, fears, and desires of childhood. The depictions of the unsupervised, impoverished Herdman kids may, at first blush, seem a bit harsh by themselves, but both the “normal kid” narrator and her reactions to the Herdman kids and as well as the adults and fellow children in her life, also present the sanctimonious and conformist middle class citizens of the little town a bit less sympathetic light herself; reminds me a bit of a Lake Wobegon with bite. 

I guess it does have a pretty Christian, specifically Protestant, message, but it does present it pretty tongue in cheek and the message of accepting people no matter their backgrounds is appropriate for people of any (or no) religious background; the humor, too, knows no faith.


                           Father Christmas - Raymond Briggs                       


This pair of short comics by the British cartoonist Raymond Briggs became great favorites of my sister and I. I don't recall how long we actually believed in Santa Claus, but this quintessentially English version, with a solitary and grumpy Father Christmas just getting his job done seemed a lot more understandable to us. An elderly man living in a lonely but well appointed house drinking a good pot of tea (somewhere in Northern England?), pining for warmer climes and happier with a good cognac than cookies. It was very interesting to see the way they celebrate Christmas in the UK explored here, with the puddings and stockings hung on the bed instead of Christmas tree shaped cookies and stockings on the mantelpiece. Sometimes it feels like our favorite things as kids were actually from England! Now, I'm craving a nice workman's lunch like Father Christmas brought with him on his rounds of a cheese and mango chutney sandwich!


Things are even more amusing as Father Christmas goes on holiday, visiting France, Scotland, and Las Vegas and spending all his money on cuisine, new outfits, and a little gambling. We found it particularly fun to see "Santa" acting the tourist and having troubles with his tum, his ability to locate sauces, and where to board the reindeer were very funny to us, especially in the beginning of a long Minnesotan winter. Happy blooming Christmas! 


*Entry theme music: "Christmastime is Here," cover by Dark Dark Dark