On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me … 12 Christmassy things to watch, read and listen to at Christmas.
12. A Child’s Christmas in Wales
Dylan Thomas’s slow, lyrical recounting of a long-ago Christmas, told to eager small people, is utterly enchanting. The words roll so softly off his tongue, as soft as the gentle, snowy curve of Welsh hills in the winter.
“Mistletoe hung from the gas brackets in all the front parlors; there was sherry and walnuts and bottled beer and crackers by the dessertspoons; and cats in their fur-abouts watched the fires; and the high-heaped fire spat, all ready for the chestnuts and the mulling pokers.”
Not sure what a mulling poker is. It sounds a bit dangerous. Maybe I should ask Father Christmas for one in my stocking.
Read the full piece here: A Child’s Christmas in Wales
11. The Box of Delights
An instant Christmas classic when it was released in 1984, partly because of the beautiful animation, partly the spellbinding Hely-Hutchinson arrangement of The First Nowell, partly because the children – especially Devin Stanfield (Kay) and Joanna Dukes (Maria) – manage to be remarkably not-annoying. (The wolves were pretty scary, though … and the Scrounger. *shudder*) Usually the first Christmas video to grace our home.
10. Mog’s Christmas
Poor Mog. Life’s so confusing when you’re a cat at Christmas. House full of strange people, walking trees, nasty cold things falling from the air – but thankfully there’s a happy ending. And also because Judith Kerr draws paws better, perhaps, than anyone. A favourite present for small people at this time of year.
9. La Bohème
I adore La Bohème, partly for the music, and partly because it makes such a strong case for a properly funded nationalised heath service, harrumph. (Poor Mimi! *sniff*) Andrew (who knows about these things) recommends this Royal Opera House production; I very much enjoyed a revival cast in this Met production; and this film, with Anna Netrebko, another Andrew tip, is so sweetly sung.
(Please excuse me for a moment while I cry over everything. Ahem.)
8. A Christmas Carol
If you’re going to read a book by the fire – and what a lovely thing to do that would be
seriously when do any of us have time for that – then Charles Dickens’s The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth are two favourite Christmas tales. The former hints ahead to It’s a Wonderful Life, the latter echoes the Christmas Carol. But nothing beats a bit of Ebenezer Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come. *doom hands*
(Go on, treat yourself to a nice copy.)
7. The Nutcracker
Just. So. Much. Sparkle.
6. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Robert Frost’s evocative poem about the outsider longing for home is perfect for those quiet pre-Christmas moments of reflection. (Like when you’re lugging several large, heavy bags up Oxford Street, bracing yourself for the tube and wondering why you didn’t order the lot online last week.)
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Read the full poem here: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
5. The Coventry Carol
Things I learnt tonight: The delicious bright end notes are known as a Picardy third (the major chord at the end of a minor piece – apparently, it’s a notable example); and it was famously broadcast live from Coventry on the BBC radio in 1940, sung amid the ruins of the cathedral, which had been recently bombed. Not sure it’s possible to imagine a more moving rendition, but this one’s very pretty:
4. White Christmas
Ah, Bing and Rosemary. It’s a Christmas day essential at home – full of joyful singing, wholesome Christmas sweaters and old-school showbiz sparkle. And oh, Danny Kaye’s dancing! Definitely a Best Thing.
Watch it and I promise – you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings …
Find it here on Amazon: White Christmas
3. Carol of the Bells
I’d loved this for years, and finally discovered what it was at choir. Singing it makes the back of my neck tingle – it’s that part when the sopranos kick in with the high G – chokes me up every time. Here’s a version with a seasonal Harry Potter edit to accompany it, because the Internet is good to us:
2. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
And talking of choking up, this song, the way it yearns for loved ones to come together – I can’t even. Poor Darlene. Why isn’t he there? What’s keeping him away from her? Is he stuck somewhere, like Neal from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, trying to get home, or just a good-for-nothing scoundrel? HOW CAN WE GET HIM TO HER? Ted and I like to sing this in the kitchen – my dirge-like, desperate Darlene accompanied by Animal-style “CHRISTMAAAS” bellows from himself. It’s … quite something.
(I tried to post the Mariah version instead of the Spector one. I really did. But Darlene’s is just so much better. Sorry, Mariah.)
1. The Muppet Christmas Carol
Yes, this is hands-down my favourite Christmas film, and no, I don’t care who knows it. Kermit and the gang are completely delightful. The attention to detail, storytelling and joke density is quite incredible – I must have watched this a hundred times and am still noticing little visual gags and touches for the first time. And then there’s Michael Caine’s top-notch Scrooge and – unusual for a children’s film – they didn’t hold back on the ghosts – they are truly chilling. It’s not Christmas Eve without “One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas”. Or Christmas Eve-Eve. Or Christmas Eve-Eve-Eve. Or … you get the picture.
And finally, if you’re not in the Christmas mood
Scrooge, Eulogy by Softer Still is a lovely, shimmery, shoegazy piece of dreampop that’s perfect for cold days and long, cosy nights – find it here on iTunes.