I’m a sucker for Christmas. The tinsel and fairy lights, the food, the family traditions, that electric charge of magic that hangs in the air for a couple of days. I love the songs and the stories, the movies, the stop-animation TV shows. Anyone who knows me can tell you that my favourite Christmas movie is A Muppets’ Christmas Carol, that I trawl discount shops for kitsch christmas albums and I can tell you that the day I finally accepted that Santa Claus wasn’t a real dude on a flying sleigh was one of pure devastation.
So it seems fitting that while I’m still munching on shortbread and sporting my Snoopy Christmas T-shirt, that I indulge in some festive reading. It’s the second of January – the ninth day of Christmas – and just before the first day (that’s Christmas day, by the way), with patridged pears a-go-go, I read John Julius Norwich’s lovely little book, The Twelve Days of Christmas.
There’s nothing like a cute, funny, sweet book to slip into a Christmas stocking and Mr Norwich’s is just such a thing. A comedic retelling of the traditional carol, a woman is beleaguered by her admirer’s generosity in sending her a gift each day based on the song’s lyrics. It all starts well with some darling birds but quickly escalates into chaos once enormous geese, naughty dancers and lecherous lords start taking over the garden. The book would make a great gift whatever it’s appearance but the fact that it is a classy illustrated hardback makes it a desirable object; and the fact that the illustrator is Quentin Blake makes it a thing just about anybody would want to get their hands on.
Quentin Blake’s artwork peppers my childhood reading memories more than just about any artist I can think of because of his collaboration with Roald Dahl. His particular style is instantly recognisable and if I spy it on a book’s cover you have a guarantee that I will pick it up. In The Twelve Days of Christmas his quirky, humourous, naughty illustrations match the tone of the text excellently.
John Julius Norwich and Quentin Blake’s book has a total page count of 32 leaves, it could fit in a large pocket, weighs less than a block of chocolate and due to its seasonal subject you can probably only read it at one time of year for optimal enjoyment. Yet all these small particulars in no way impart the enormous glowy feeling of happiness this book creates in those lucky enough to read it. After I read it the first time I purchased multiple copies before even deciding who I was going to give them to. And I do know someone who was carrying it around in his pocket, so that he could show it to everyone who crossed his path. It’s a little book; by no means life-changing, intellectually rigorous or world-important. At the same time it embraces all that is so lovely about this most wonderful time of the year, and I think I’m going to add a reading of it to my Christmas traditions in the future.