Author: Matt Haig
Finished on: 30 December 2016
Where did I get this book: I bought it as a birthday present for my daughter, then hassled her to read it immediately so I could borrow (not that it took much hassling, she is as big a fan of these books as I am).
Reading A Boy Called Christmas was one of the highlights of my 2015 festive season. The finest Christmas stories have always been those that not only cut through all the commercialism and ostentatious spending, but more importantly make wider political points about the world we’re living in; that use Christmas as a way to shine a light on ugly truths we have perhaps started to accept as inevitable.
From the nativity story itself, to Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, these stories help us to draw inspiration from Christmas as a time of goodwill and celebration, not just to have fun (although this is very important in itself) but also to think about our place in the world and what we might be able to do to make things better.
Haig has said on twitter that A Boy Called Christmas is the most political thing he has ever written. Now I know people say a lot of things on twitter, but that book, and now The Girl Who Saved Christmas, are great examples for that Madeleine L’Engle quote:
You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.
The Girl Who Saved Christmas is a sequel but also a stand alone book in its own right. It tells the story of 1841 and 1842, the period leading up to Christmas becoming a huge and well-established holiday celebration in Britain. Through a combination of Prince Albert’s enthusiasm and importing of new traditions, and the publication of A Christmas Carol in 1843, Christmas became the festive season we now know and love.
And Haig shows how this was all made possible through magic, the hope of one amazing little girl, and a little inspiration thrown to a certain Mr Dickens. Maybe the article on how how Dickens invented the secular Christmas as we know it even provided some inspiration for this book? That would be awesome.
Whereas A Boy Called Christmas included a searing portrayal of the dangers of a corrupt political system and media, The Girl Who Saved Christmas shows us the seductive power of being consistently and repeatedly fed lies as if they were truths, the fear and mistrust that this can breed, and the awful consequences if these insidious lies are not challenged.
It is a gorgeous, moving book with a brilliantly brave and compelling lead character in Amelia Wishart, the hero of the title. It can happily be read as a story about elves, pixies, trolls and magic. But there is more to it than that.
2016 has been a difficult year for many reasons. But hope seems to be a theme of its wrap up. I read this book, and went to see the film Rogue One with its heartbreakingly wonderful ending, within two days of each other. And while there is cause to be scared about some of what 2017 holds in store for us, this book has a welcome and clear message about the power of hope. But also that we won’t make a difference sitting on our bums eating mince pies; that beyond the fun and the festivities, we can take inspiration to ‘honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year’: be brave and challenge lies, mistrust and walls between people.
We’ll leave the last word with Ebenezer Scrooge’s nephew Fred:
I have always thought of Christmas time… as the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.