A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Every year, around this time, the battle lines form. On the one side we have the people who deplore what they see as the gross commercialization and devaluing of a Christian festival and on the other, those who like to point out that it started life as a jolly good midwinter knees up and only became Christian when it was hijacked by the church. Both viewpoints are perfectly valid ones, because Yuletide/Christmas is of course a cheerful mish-mash of the pagan and the Christian, so trying to claim it’s one thing to the exclusion of the other is tiny bit pointless – but that never stops the arguments raging about the ‘true meaning’ of the season …
Every year I just tiptoe away, closing the door carefully behind me, and seek out the corner of my library that holds my little collection of ‘Christmas books’ – The Polar Express, A Christmas Carol, The Legend of the Christmas Rose, The First Christmas. Invariably, however, I’m drawn to the quiet and humane voice of Pearl S Buck and her low-key Christmas story – Christmas Day in the Morning.
It’s a simple tale, beautifully told:
Rob is 15 years old and lives with his mother, father and siblings on a farm somewhere in the midwest. They are poor people, barely scraping a living from farming and their energies entirely consumed by the daily business of survival.
One day, Rob overhears his father telling his mother that he hates having to get his son up at 4.00am to help with the milking and wishes he could manage it alone. His no-nonsense wife merely observes that the boy isn’t a child any more and has to do his fair share of the work:
“Yes,” his father said slowly. “But I sure do hate to wake him.”
When he heard these words, something in him woke: his father loved him! He had never thought of it before, taking for granted the tie of their blood. Neither his father nor his mother talked about loving their children, they had no time for such things. There was always so much to do on a farm.
He has already bought his father a small Christmas present – a tie purchased from the local ten-cent store – but now finds himself wishing he had saved longer to buy something better. Then, lying awake in bed on the night before Christmas, the thought strikes him ‘like a silver dagger’ that there is a wonderful present he can give his father, and it won’t cost him a penny. At 2.45am, he creeps silently from the house and, while the family sleeps on, he does the milking all by himself.
The task went more easily than he had ever known it to before. Milking for once was not a chore. It was something else, a gift to his father who loved him.
His father, naturally, is overwhelmed by what his young son has done for him:
“The best Christmas gift I ever had, and I’ll remember it, son, every year on Christmas morning so long as I live.”
They had both remembered it, and now that his father was dead, he remembered it alone, that blessed Christmas dawn when, alone with the cows in the barn, he had made his first gift of true love.
In her extraordinary and tumultuous life, Pearl S Buck wrote longer, more renowned works than Christmas Day in the Morning, but she never bettered this touching fable, which so straightforwardly captures the spirit of the season and reminds us that the Christmas message really isn’t so complicated, after all.
From all of us here at Vulpes Libris, have a wonderful festive season – whatever your beliefs and however you choose to celebrate them.
There are several editions of Christmas Day in the Morning, but the one illustrated – published by HarperCollins in 2002 (ISBN: 0-688-16267-3, 40pp) – has the benefit of the glorious, velvety illustrations of Mark Buehner.