Ah, the bustle of Christmas! Decorating your house for the holidays, cooking traditional family favorites,
shopping. Braving the crowds, the weather, the choices —
and returning home to relax with a mug of hot chocolate or a cup of tea.
In the Christmastime Series, Christmas shopping adds a sense of merriment and celebration to the season — whether it’s Lillian preparing for Christmas Night at the Brooklyn department store where she works (Christmastime 1939),
or Mrs. Murphy taking a store escalator up to the “North Pole” toy section to do some shopping for her nieces and nephews (Christmastime 1941),
or Izzy stopping to enjoy the window displays as she walks to work (Christmastime 1943),
or the sisters Ursula and Jessica browsing at the small-town stores in rural Illinois.
Christmas shopping. The sparkle of lights and tinsel, the scent of pine and cloves, the sounds of bells ringing and Christmas caroling heighten enjoyment of the season and deepen the pleasure of gift-giving.
Now that it’s officially spring, reading outdoors has even more appeal. Opening a new book amid the first flowers of spring or under blossoming trees speaks of new beginnings, a sense of well-being, and hope.
There’s the promise of longer days and milder weather, and hopefully, more free time to indulge in the discovery of new books.
And if it’s still too cold where you live to read outdoors, bring a bit of springtime inside with a few blossomy sprigs or some fresh-cut flowers to remind you of what’s up ahead.
Spring seems to be the perfect season to read a Jane Austen novel, or one of the many books inspired by her work. Perhaps it’s because her stories end on a hopeful, spring-like note.
Perhaps it’s because milder weather allows the heroines to be out and about more, as with Elizabeth Bennet’s strolls through the spring countryside in Pride and Prejudice,
or Fanny Price in Mansfield Park enjoying a spring day in Portsmouth with its “mild air, brisk soft wind, and bright sun, occasionally clouded for a minute: and everything looked so beautiful under the influence of such a sky,”
or Persuasion’s Anne Elliot “hoping that she was to blessed with a second spring of youth and beauty.”
The fresh beauty of blossom-time and the promise of milder weather are just the right time to reread your favorite Austen book or to discover a new one.
I used to have a tradition of reading a Dickens book every December, as part of my holiday celebration. I love the humor, empathy, and the depictions of Victorian England that Dickens wove into his stories. Though he wrote about harsh realities and the struggles of life, the overall tone is hopeful and uplifting, where love, loyalty, kindness and generosity emerge as the highest values.
Threads of Dickens runs throughout the Christmastime series. In the first book I wrote of the series, Christmastime 1940, the connection was unintentional and I didn’t see the similarities until later. The book first began as a short story (“Old Man Drooms”) that takes place in the snowy winter. However, once the tale developed into a longer story, and I moved the action to the Christmas season, the connections became quite obvious. I realized that all those years of reading and rereading Dickens had worked its way into my narrative.
For the prequel, Christmastime 1939, I made the reading of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol a part of the story. It was actually my way into the story, though it is the character of Lillian who dreads the Christmas season and can’t wait for it to be over.
In the first chapter, Lillian and her boys, Tommy and Gabriel, have returned from her sister’s house upstate where they usually celebrate Christmas. Lillian is completely unprepared for the holiday season and the boys are argumentative as they worry about how they will spend Christmas on their own.
“A tug-of-war began that Lillian feared would result in a broken kaleidoscope. She got up and took the kaleidoscope away and set it on the bookshelf.
“Why are you two so fussy tonight?”
She spotted the book that Annette had tucked into the lunch basket, just as they were leaving for the train. She had forgotten all about it, and lifted it with a sense of being rescued.
“Look here!” she said, showing them the cover. “Annette said this will put us in the Christmas spirit. Come,” she said, returning to the couch. “Let’s begin it. It will be the start of our holiday celebration. We’ll read a little bit each night. How about that?”
Gabriel was all for it and jumped onto the couch next to her. Tommy sat down on her other side and read the title. “About singing?”
“No. It’s a story about a grouchy old man who hates Christmas. I read it many years ago.” Lillian turned to the first page.
Tommy leaned over and read, “Stave One: Marley’s Ghost.” His eyes brightened and he sat up in anticipation.
Gabriel, never one for ghost stories, snuggled closer. Lillian began to read. “Marley was dead, to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that.”
I also used a touch of Dickens in Christmastime 1942. Mr. Mason indulges in the comforts of home and enjoys his holiday tradition of reading Dickens. Since one of the main themes of the book is the theater, the stage, and acting, I have Mr. Mason reading Nicholas Nickleby.
“Mason was indulging in his Christmas tradition of reading Charles Dickens. Every December he decided on a book by his favorite author. Last year he had chosen Bleak House – this year he was rereading Nicholas Nickleby. He was just settling into his book when his domestic bliss was abruptly interrupted by the whirlwind of his mother and his youngest sister, Alice, as they burst into the room.” (71)
And later in the novel,
“Mason arrived home and felt cheered by all the bustle and laughter that filled his house. This was the way he liked it, everyone busy with some Christmas activity. He would prepare himself a cup of coffee, sit in his armchair and pick up Nicholas Nickleby – read smack in the middle of it all. He chuckled inwardly, remembering where he had left off in the book, with the Infant Phenomenon.” (141)
This December, I can think of no better way to celebrate the holiday season than to curl up with a good book, and Dickens is just the thing to reaffirm our belief in the goodness of the human heart.
Once in a while I put out a request for book reviews. I’m always trying to increase my numbers, especially on Amazon and Goodreads, as it leads to greater discoverability.
If you have read The Garden House, I would deeply appreciate a review (and by that I mean a few words or even a simple star review).
If you have not read The Garden House but would like to and are willing to leave an honest review on Amazon, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you a free ebook through BookFunnel.
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