By Megan Lloyd
“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”
“All the Christmases roll down toward 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…”
“Always on Christmas night there was music. An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang ‘Cherry Ripe,’ and another uncle sang ‘Drake's Drum.’ It was very warm in the little house. Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death, and then another in which she said her heart was like a Bird's Nest; and then everybody laughed again; and then I went to bed. 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, steady 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.” So writes Dylan Thomas in his A Child’s Christmas in Wales, originally written for radio. In what became a short story, Thomas captures the reminiscences and remembrances of many Christmases and at times no real Christmases, a piece full of memory and imagination, perhaps what Christmas in Wales or anywhere is really all about.
My family in Wales continues to celebrate much like the characters out of Thomas’ story. Lots of songs, food, coal fires, and uncles make up our Christmases. Oh, and crackers. We have picture after picture of everyone sitting around the Christmas table enjoying their Christmas goose and wearing a paper crown. To celebrate Boxing Day, (December 26, originally celebrated as a day to give gifts to tenants, employees, and the poor) my family again rolls out the food, no crowns this time, and hangs out, glad for another day off. They may sit and sing and certainly recall past holidays, thinking about favorite gifts and favorite relatives no longer here.
As Dylan Thomas’ story begins--was it six days of snow
when he was twelve, or twelve days when he six--he captures not only Welsh
Christmas tradition but universal Christmas tradition. The memories mingle,
fade and often are recreated into something more special that never was. In Wales,
in the U.S.,
or anywhere, we, too, plunge our hands into the snow of Christmas memory and
pull out whatever we may find. May your
handfuls of memories be joyous and full of wonder. Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda.
Megan S. Lloyd is associate professor at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, PA, and author of "Speak It in Welsh": Wales and the Welsh Language in Shakespeare.