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A Timeless Gift:

Now that we are in December, inevitably no matter how we may pledge not to get caught up in “buying” holiday presents, no matter how we may determine to make personal gifts instead of surrendering to the seasonal commercialism, it is virtually impossible to avoid consumerism altogether. It is, however, possible to give timeless and meaningful gifts – gifts which capture the spirit of the season. One such gift I recommend is a copy and/or recording of Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales. First of all it is important to note that it can be enjoyed, even treasured, not only by Christians. In fact, it is really a paean to family, to tradition, and a tribute to the wonderful imagination of children rather than a religious work. Many of my Jewish friends, friends who are atheists or Buddhists or agnostics, love this work.

For as long as I can remember, I have listened and encouraged whomever I can to listen to Dylan reading aloud his masterpiece. It is, in our family, something we just do every year in December. By now I think almost every wonderful phrase and image is familiar to us all, yet we still delight in the brilliance of the language and the images created of a rural, snowy, beautiful, older time when, as the poet says, “there were wolves in Wales.” Dylan Thomas wrote A Child’s Christmas in Wales only 52 years ago in 1954, but it almost immediately became a “classic,” and certainly readers will enjoy it for decades and probably centuries to come. It is a 20th century equivalent to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and, I believe, it is equally magical. (Most likely the 21st century will offer its own candidates for posterity.)

The first person reminiscence begins with a lovely passage:

“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”

And then the scene shifts to the Protheros’ home and the fire where smoke was indeed…

“pouring out of the dining room, and the gong was bombilating, and Mrs. Prothero was announcing ruin like a town crier in Pompeii.”

The poet’s reminiscences proceed through a magnificent variety of scenes – the postmen who “with sprinkling eyes and wind-cherried noses, on spread, frozen feet [they] crunched up to the doors and mittened on them manfully” – to the presents – once I received “a little crocheted nose bag from an aunt now, alas, no longer whinnying with us.” To the uncles “trying their new cigars, holding them out judiciously at arms’ length, returning them to their mouths, coughing, then holding them out again as though waiting for the explosion.” To “Auntie Hannah, who liked port [who] stood in the middle of the snowbound back yard, singing like a big-bosomed thrush.”

The parade of aunts, uncles, townspeople, the children exercising their wild and innocent imaginations, the Christmas feasts and the next-to-last scene with the author and his friends caroling, walking up to a mysterious house during a dark evening “when there wasn’t the shaving of a moon” and the strange voice they hear from within the house which sets them fleeing home… These and dozens of other moments provide a series of unforgettable scenes, each enriched by imagistic intensity. I think I have read and listened to this short story over a hundred times, and each time I discover some new phrase or marvelous image. And as each holiday season comes to a close, I think of Thomas’s concluding lines:

“Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steadily falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.”

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