In this delightful recollection of a childhood Christmas in Slad, Gloucestershire, Laurie Lee describes the first 48 hours or so of what was then a 12-day festivity commencing on the evening of 23rd December. He and his fellow choir boys crunch around the snow to sing carols at the doors of the villagers and collect their modest bounty. The coins will be spent the next day in the glowing, sumptuous bazaar in town on the kind of toys now found only in advent calendar pictures behind paper windows. They are gifts for grateful siblings.
The famous house from Cider with Rosie bursts with Christmas Eve preparations. I imagine how beautiful the kitchen must have looked when filled exclusively with natural decorations from the garden and neighbouring lands, hand-crafted by Laurie’s sisters. The Christmas feast has everything and more, in spite of the village poverty in relative terms. Readers will find an abundance of familiarity here. Uncles play the pudding trick on excited children who clutch their cutlery in anticipation. (The pudding trick is to make sure each child’s serving of pudding has its own ‘winning’ sixpence in it.) Grandpa pours brandy over the pudding for lighting. I am at this table when reading this passage, amongst all the chatter and richness of the occasion.
I adore every part of this story. The three short paragraphs where the Christmas stocking appears by magic is Laurie at his nostalgic best. The source of all this magic he describes is Mother. She is the heartbeat and spirit of the household, at the centre of everything. The children cling to her as Christmas day draws agonisingly to a close. Whether Father Christmas exists or not, Mother is the real spirit of this occasion. I remember feeling the same when I was a child, although I’m sure I didn’t say it enough. I still feel the same now.
Published in Village Christmas, Penguin Modern Classics, 2016
Chosen by Lloyd Gash. Lloyd is a Senior Lecturer in Law at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, with reading interests in travel writing, biographies and global affairs.