My Favorite Holiday Books

By Jenny Mattern

As a child, it never truly felt like the Christmas season had begun until we’d gotten out our collection of holiday books. I have no idea where my mom tucked them away the rest of the year, but when she hauled out the box containing ​Claude the Dog​, ​Mousekin’s Christmas Eve, ​and all the others, I knew it wouldn’t be long until we’d be hanging stockings and putting up the tree.

One of my favorite holiday books was our paperback copy of ​A Child’s Christmas in Wales​, written by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and originally published in 1952. In my memory, I can hear my dad reading it aloud to my brother and me sometime during the holidays. Back then I didn’t understand most of the lyrical language, but the ebb and flow of the beautiful words managed to work their way into my soul.

As an adult, I’ve tried to recreate some of that literary Christmas magic with my own children.

Through the years we’ve read Rumer Godden’s ​The Story of Holly and Ivy​ countless times, and Barbara Robinson’s ​The Best Christmas Pageant Ever ​still makes us laugh.

If you were to ask my children to name a favorite Christmas Eve tradition, they would inevitably say our annual holiday-light drive. We pile into the car, pop a digital copy of ​A Child’s Christmas in Wales ​(read by Dylan Thomas himself) into the CD player, and let his mellifluous voice wash over us as we head out onto snowy streets searching for the prettiest decorations and the brightest lights.

This year, more than most, I’m looking forward to seeing those twinkling lights shining through the darkness while Dylan Thomas carries me back to a simpler time. 

“All the Christmases roll down towards the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged, fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find.”

As the lyrical story draws to a close and we’re nearly back to our own driveway, I know my dad’s voice will replace Thomas’s in my mind. And the final paragraph will inevitably bring tears to my eyes as I remember simpler Christmases of my own.

“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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