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Monday, December 26, 2011

My Memories of a Child's Christmas in Wales

Our much-loved copy of a classic
Christmas story
When I was growing up, we had the tradition that every Christmas Eve, my sister and I would receive a new Christmas book. One year, perhaps 1986 or 1987, we were introduced to Dylan Thomas' "A Child Christmas in Wales," the 1985 version beautifully illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. A thus a life-long love affair began.

Even as a young child, I loved the rich and rolling language, the marvelous and evocative descriptions, the wry humor, and the profound love for this bygone world that gleamed through every line of the story. Coupled with Hyman's wonderfully detailed illustrations, a boy's experience in a small sea-side Welsh town in the 1920's was brought vividly to life. Between the words and images, it became a world that was very real to me and very dear. How dear? When I was in third grade, I dressed up as the young Dylan Thomas for Halloween!

"Dylan Thomas", age 8
My love for this story and language in which it is told has not waned over the years. I always have a mishmash of treasured phrases drifting around in my head: snatches of Shakespeare, fragments of poems by Blake and Frost and Byron, lines from the Aeneid and Oedipus Rex, and favorite descriptions from cherished novels. Floating amongst them are quotes from "A Child's Christmas in Wales," specifically, "mittened on them manfully" (one of my very favorite alliterative lines!), "from an aunt, alas, no longer whinnying with us," "a small, dry, eggshell voice," and the story's closing sentence, "I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept." I have read widely and avidly, but I think my very favorite book of all time is this one.

One Christmas, when my sister and I were in college, my family attended a reading of "A Child's Christmas in Wales," interspersed with Christmas carols sung in Welsh, held at a church that was apparently where Seattle's Welsh community worshipped. It was a bit of a dorky thing to do, but we were clearly, in the eyes of the others there, not literary fans, but a Welsh family celebrating their heritage. Our dark-hair, fair-skinned family has always been more aware of our Irish, English, and dark-haired Norwegian ancestors, but there is a bit of Welsh blood on both sides of my family, and it turns out that we LOOK Welsh. This tenuous sort of kinship has only deepened my love of the story, since it is, very remotely, connected to my own. The Welsh are a proud land of poets; it would be an honor, in my opinion, to descend from such a people, and to be able to claim "A Child's Christmas in Wales" as part of my heritage.

In some ways, my tender, cherished memories of rediscovering "A Child's Christmas in Wales" each year are as rich as those contained within the covers of my dog-eared copy of the book. My joy, as a young child, in lapping up the world described cannot be replicated, but my desire to share this experience with you is such that I have prepared a small project: Dylan Thomas himself reading "A Child's Christmas in Wales," accompanied by the Trina Schart Hyman illustrations that brought the story to life for me. It's taken me several days to find a hosting site for this twenty minute video, but please allow me to wish you a very Merry Christmas even though the day has passed.

A Christmas Gift: Dylan Thomas and A Child's Christmas in Wales from Colleen Powell on Vimeo.

Disclaimer: the recording (which my parents gave to me on CD a few Christmases ago) was copyrighted in 1952 and the illustrations were copyrighted in 1985. This is intended only for the viewing pleasure of those I know and hold dear.

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