Today’s Christmas book theme is that of spending an idyllic family Christmas. Is there such a thing? Read on and see …
Many of us know and love Dorothy Whipple’s classic tale of scheming and the disintegration of a very happy family life in ‘Someone at a Distance’ but there is a very lovely chapter devoted to Christmas time which I’d like to talk about today.
This particular Christmastime has all the ingredients for a perfectly, perfect, cozy, intimate Christmas celebration. One should mention the family of course at this point – and who they consist of. The family consists of Avery and Ellen, their two children, Anne and Hugh. Invited to the feast are Avery’s mother and her French companion – a young girl called Louise. A close family friend and work associate of Avery’s, John Bennet, is the remaining link in the close knit family circle.
“Anne was busy decorating the house. Holly caught at every sleeve. Tinsel dripped. Lights were so draped with coloured paper that one could hardly read.”
The house is brilliantly bedecked in festive decoration, commandeered by the enthusiasm of young Anne. She also is in charge of making toffee and ice-cream, although her Mother despairs with the younger generation’s tendencies for using substitute ingredients (cornflour, sugar and margarine) instead of real cream.
Ellen has the task of preparing Christmas dinner for so many people all by herself, in the absence of helpful hands from her daily helps. The social change is hinted at in this telling line :-
“She laughed at herself for being surprised, still after all the social changes that people like Miss Beasley and Mrs Pretty, and now Miss Daley, should prefer to amuse themselves rather than help her.”
So Ellen is rushed off her feet.
Christmas morning is spent being woken up very early by excited children opening presents, in going to church. There are snowy fields and there’s a particularly lovely description of the church graveyard cherub’s heads being highlighted with the fresh fall of snow. The snow outside illuminates the interior of the church with a bright glow and village neighbours whisper good wishes to one another.
In the evening, house guests gather for Christmas dinner. John Bennet brings spooling gifts for Ellen.
Over delicious turkey, Ellen asks Louise how Christmas Day is celebrated in France and Louise replies that it is a feast of the Church and that English celebrations seem more Germanic in nature to her.
Carol singers arrive in the evening and Ellen telephones her family and some old, lonely friends in her selfless way.
John Bennet, sleeping in the spare bedroom, echoes everyone’s thoughts – could there be luckier person than Avery North, with his beautiful family life.
The Christmas chapter in ‘Someone at a Distance’ is idyllic in the extreme.