The Christmas tradition in literature

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THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS IN THE ARTS (1/4) During Advent, "The Cross" proposes to rediscover works that illustrate the tradition of Christmas. This week: in the literature.

Charles Dickens' "Christmas Tales" (1843)

Famous tale of the British writer Charles Dickens, A christmas carol has been very present in his mind for his character as a mean miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, tormented for his sins by three spirits who visit him on Christmas Eve, the celebration he abhors and that repentance will make him love, softening him . His many representations, in cinema or animation, have all the more anchored this story in the popular imagination.

We know less that Charles Dickens is the author of several other Christmas tales, composed from 1843 to 1848 and welcomed with great success: Chime, The cricket of the hearth, The Battle of Life … (collated in pocket Folio, translated from English by Marcel Sibon and Francis Ledoux). In the introduction of this precious volume, the writer and academic Dominique Barbéris evokes very nicely these tales "written to the height of child", which "make us a little childhood in a pure state". It traces their genesis, their symbolism, their inventiveness and theatricality.

Dickens invited the reader to be won over by the spirit of Christmas by plunging into this reading yet not always sweet. He wrote about the Christmas Carol: " I started this little spectral book to lift the Ghost of an Idea that should not anger my readers either with themselves, with each other, with the season or with me. That he haunts their house and nobody wants to put it down ".

Once upon a time Christmas: Christmas tales from generation to generation

"Christmas pudding" by Agatha Christie (1960)

" This adventure evokes for me the delicious memory of the Christmas of my childhood , Said Agatha Christie about her novel Christmas Pudding. " After the death of my father, my mother and I always spent Christmas in my brother-in-law's family in the North of England – wonderful Christmas that could only mark the memory of a child! If many of the festive rites and pleasures known to the novelist at Abney Hall have probably inspired her, it is a safe bet that the rest of her story is born of her own imagination.

This Christmas story tells the invitation of Hercule Poirot to spend the Christmas Eve and Christmas at the Lacey, in a country house, where he will find, obviously, matter for investigation after the discovery of death, lying in the snow , young Bridget, a ruby ​​in her hand.

The Christmas plum pudding (there will actually be four) will play a central role since, the preparation to be mixed in turn by each of the guests, it will have allowed to hide the famous ruby, spotted by the sagacity of Poirot. The cook, Mrs. Ross, had warned, questioned by the detective: " the puddings that we buy, it's never worth the ones we make ourselves. A fun plot and twists, in spite of their ominous accents, that make this "Christmas pudding" very digestible for the end of the year festivities.

To read in the new revised translation of Jean-Michel Alamagny, published by the Masque.

"The three low masses" by Alphonse Daudet (1875)

" – Two truffled turkeys, Garrigou? …

– Yes, my Reverend, two beautiful turkeys stuffed with truffles (…)

– Jesus Maria! me who loves truffles so much! … Give me quickly my surplice, Garrigou … "

Tasty from its first lines, the little story of Christmas invented by Alphonse Daudet for his collection the Monday's tales (before being integrated into Letters of my mill) makes smiles by telling the bad fortune of a chaplain, Dom Balaguère, who sends his Christmas Masses to be able to enjoy the New Year's Eve dinner.

Dressing, he encourages his sexton to describe the menu (" How big, trout, Garrigou? "). Generous dishes provided by the marquis of the castle, great wines beside which the liturgical wine seems vinegar. The sacristan is actually the Devil come to tempt him. During the first mass (the priest must celebrate three), the bell that he shakes " with an infernal rush and seems to be saying all the time: let's hurry up, let's hurry up … The sooner we'll be done, the sooner we'll be at the table ".

Dom Balaguère will eat and drink as long as he dies in the night. Appearing before God, he is condemned to expiate his sin of greed by saying three hundred masses for a century in his chapel, in the company of other fishermen. Alphonse Daudet presents his story as a Provencal legend, designating the chapel at the top of Mont Ventoux. And he adds to the mystery by concluding that every year, on December 24 at midnight, one can hear the chime ringing, perceive a supernatural light, an assembly entering the ruins of the old church, and, in the middle of the choir , a priest " reciting prayers that we did not hear a word ".

When literature celebrates Christmas

Selma Lagerlöf's "Christmas Book"

Symbol of Nordic literature, the Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf, Nobel laureate in 1909, has remained famous especially for a children's story, The wonderful journey of Nils Holgersson (He reappears now at Actes Sud in a beautiful illustrated volume). She is also the author of a Christmas book, composed of several stories celebrating this feast, in connection with Scandinavian legends and other heritages, Christian or popular culture.

In Nazareth for example, Jesus and Judas, two five-year-old children living in the city of Galilee, characters from a tale of difference and rivalry, injustice and goodness. While New Year's Eve animal relates the journey of a priest who goes to the bedside of the sick on the night of winter, who becomes in the forest the spectator of a strange ceremony during which will be distinguished the animals that will be " the prey of ferocious beasts in the following year ".

Inviting to live a Swedish eve, the story that gives its title to the collection tells about the family habits of festivities, traditional specialties (cod "laundry", rice pudding, Christmas beer …) to the distribution of gifts : " The eyes shine, the cheeks catch fire, the hands shake when the door opens to let in the two servants disguised as Christmas goats and drag two large hoods full of bundles ".

This book also reappears in an illustrated edition to offer (translated from Swedish by Marc de Gouvenain and Lena Grumbach, Actes Sud, 134 p., 15 €)

Christmas accounts: the Paris-Brest novel by Tanguy Viel

Sabine Audrerie