The idea for creating A Child’s Christmas in Wales probably began with Dylan Thomas’ talk “Reminiscences of Childhood,” which aired on the Welsh BBC in 1942. By 1945, the poet had developed this material into a talk called “Memories of Christmas,” which appeared on the Children’s Hour of BBC. It then became an essay entitled “Conversations about Christmas” in 1947, which Thomas sold to Picture Post, and later “A Child’s Memories of Christmas in Wales,” which he sold to Harper’s Bazaar in 1952. The book with the present title appeared in 1954 shortly after the author’s death.
A Child’s Christmas in Wales is a nostalgic review of life for a little boy in Wales during the 1920’s. The stories are not so much about the festivities of Christmas as about the peculiar habits of people as revealed in this season of feasting and merriment. The book moves quickly from episode to episode, with the primary focus resting on how unusual the world appears through the eyes of a little boy who is still discovering life. The author has a young boy prompt the adult narrator from time to time to focus on matters important and interesting to little children.
While Thomas makes no direct claims to be writing autobiographical pieces, the nature of the story as set in Wales is clearly connected to his childhood experiences at his parent’s home on Cwmdonkin Drive in Swansea. Like so many poems by...
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A Child’s Christmas in Wales belongs to a long tradition of children’s literature written by prominent poets. For example, Christina Rossetti wrote a delightful collection of poems entitled Sing Song (1872), along with a wide variety of other poems for children. T. S. Eliot published Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats in 1939, a collection that was transformed into the popular Broadway musical Cats. Theodore Roethke wrote several fine selections of poems for children, including “Lighter Pieces and Poems for Children” in Words for the Wind (1958), and “Nonsense Poems” in I Am! Says the Lamb (1961). Thomas’ short-story collection is not as fine a piece as these selections of poetry, but A Child’s Christmas in Wales does feature a highly poetic style that sings with the same beauty as many of his lyrical poems and plays, such as Under Milkwood (1954).
Thomas evidences the Welsh love for language. For example, the opening paragraph of the first episode contains this sparkling sentence: “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.” This is fine writing reminiscent of Old English poetry, with its use of kennings, or compound nouns, such as “whale-road” and “swan’s-path” to rename common things such as the sea. The mesmerizing language of A Child’s Christmas in Wales makes even the most trivial of childish escapades worth hearing again and again. This book continues to be very popular for its portrayal of childhood as well as for its musical language.