As we grow older, we tend to hide the cantankerousness and innocence that formed such a large part of our youth. Perhaps social convention, or some vague idea of acting grown up, forces us to mask these ostensibly childish attributes. Some folks, however, are unable to adopt the adult disguise. Dylan Thomas was of such a kind. He never grew up or, at least, he refused to pretend to be grown up. Throughout his life, Thomas's friends invariably described him using words commonly reserved for children. They called him obstreperous. They called him a toe-rag. They also called him as a genius.
Thus you have the makings of the greatest ever Christmas book. Thomas was a poet and an intellect of the most profound variety who unabashedly refused to grow up. A Child's Christmas in Wales is a children's book written by a 38-year-old child - the best writer my people, the Welsh, have ever produced.
A Child's Christmas encapsulates the lost idea of childhood that adults seem to remember around Christmastime. It encourages us to drop our adult disguise. It makes us want to throw fun snaps at children and eat sweets until our teeth rot. It makes us want to gather snowballs and throw them at our neighbours. A Child's Christmas reminds us, or at least some of us, that we are simply children pretending to be grown up. It makes us want to stop pretending.
A Child's Christmas contains a variety of connected tales about Thomas's childhood in Swansea. Thomas offers anecdotes to please nostalgic readers. During one such tale, Thomas the younger goes onto the pavement, puts a candy cigarette in his mouth, and waits on the corner for an old woman to scold him for smoking. As she begins to scold, Thomas eats the cigarette and smirks. This is a childish act any level headed adult appreciates. And it is told so brilliantly because it comes from the mind of a 38-year-old child.
Thomas spends several pages describing his presents. He reminds us that presents are a massive part of Christmas - only adults who have lost their way or children pretending to be adults suggest otherwise. For Thomas, there are useful presents, such as engulfing mufflers and silky gum that 'could be tug-o-warred down to the galoshes'. There are less useful presents, such as painting books that one can paint any colour except, obviously, the suggested colour. And there are sweets - tons of sweets.
Thomas tells stories of hunting cats armed with snowballs - unsuccessfully, thankfully - and instead using the snowballs to put out a fire in a nearby kitchen. Thomas speaks of drunken aunts and uncles singing and dancing as if they were children, which, of course, they are. He describes Christmas dinner in their little house - 'turkey and blazing pudding' - and carol singing at the residence of a ghost. These stories are surely exaggerated and thus truthful to the childish mind.
This short, wonderful book says little about the ideals of Christmas - goodwill, kindness, charity - that are emphasised in other Christmas books, such as A Christmas Carol. Rather, it evokes the ineffable feeling of Christmas; the feeling we can't quite rationalise, but still understand. If authors like Dickens remind us to be kind, and grateful, and to support the less fortunate at this time of year, Thomas reminds us that it's also okay to succumb to the pageantry of Christmas.
A Child's Christmas is a gift to those struggling to accept the novelty of Christmas. It challenges the obstinacy of Christmas-sceptics. Thomas encourages his reader to embrace the seemingly irrational and certainly ineffable feeling that surrounds Christmas. For those of us that celebrate this holiday, and particularly those that are sceptical, this book is a treasure. It reminds us adults that we are still silly and cantankerous. We are still naïve and innocent. Perhaps most importantly, A Child's Christmas reminds us that we are just children with beards and breasts foolishly pretending we are grown up.