recess radio program

12/25/03
A Child's Christmas in Wales
    by Lauren Brosnihan

Though it's a small country, many Christmas holiday traditions have their origins in Wales. For instance, some musicologists believe one of the most joyful and exuberant carols, "Deck the Halls" to be of Welsh origin. Caroling fits into the larger Welsh tradition dating from the twelfth century of annual music and poetry festivals called Eisteddfods, which honor and celebrate the holiday through annual competitions to find the best poems and carols written in Welsh. Children are an integral part of the caroling in Wales, as they visit their neighbors singing carols and giving a special good luck charm to those houses in which they are greeted with warmth and hospitality. The charm is a "calening," or "piece of fruit -- usually an apple studded with spices, garnished with sprigs of greenery and set on stick legs. Sometimes a candle is put in the center of the fruit."1

A twentieth century contribution to the Eisteddfod tradition is the Dylan Thomas poem, "A Child's Christmas in Wales." Originally written as a BBC radio script for a Welsh regional station it was published only after Thomas's death in 1954.2 The poem celebrates Christmas and winter memories of childhood set across a snow-filled, hilly sea-coast landscape in Wales.

Brief sound clip

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. In goes
my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of
holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea."3

Thomas remembers how, as a boy, he and a friend became "Eskimo-footed arctic marksman in the muffling silence of the eternal snow," trying to hunt the neighborhood cats with their snowballs. But the wise creatures never appear during this Chrismas filled with useful and useless presents, rollicking visiting uncles "trying their new cigars," and "aunts sitting on the edge of their chairs" in the parlor. At the end of the poem, Thomas and his pal go out singing carols and end up at a darkened, seemingly deserted house. No one opens the door, but someone joins the boys, singing through the door as if she was a ghost. It's an unexpected moment, and it sends the boys running home. Breathless and giddy, they find themselves outside Thomas's house where, he tells us, "everything was good again and shone over the town." Sounds like a perfect time -- in Wales, or Anywhere.

Notes:

1Encyclopedia of Christmas. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 2000.
2 The World Encylopedia of Christmas. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2000.
3 Thomas, Dylan. A Child’s Christmas in Wales. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1968.

Today's program featured the following works:

Copyright 2003 © Lauren Brosnihan

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