‘If I could work my will,’ said Scrooge indignantly, ‘Every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.’
This year go carol-singing in the Cotswolds with Laurie Lee or attend church with a grumpy Samuel Pepys. Make plum puddings for bemused French villagers with Elizabeth David; go present shopping with Virginia Woolf or eat far too much with Agatha Christie. Celebrate Christmas at Chatsworth, in the workhouse or marooned in the ice with Shackleton …
For forty-five years, the arrival of John Julius Norwich’s latest Christmas Cracker became as essential a part of the Christmas experience as holly and mistletoe. In An English Christmas the late legendary popular historian gathered all the best writing about this strangest and most memorable time of year into one book and his brilliant eye for a story is evident on every page.
Vividly evoking all the good things about the festive season, this unexpected anthologyis just as entertaining about its darker aspects. Eight-year-old Princess Margaret’s thank-you list jostles with moving letters home from the trenches. Sherlock Holmes solves his trickiest case. George Orwell writes about indigestion; Jane Austen about reluctant socialising and Thomas Hardy about the old folk belief that all animals kneel at midnight on 24 December. There are ghost stories, games and bizarre recipes. Diary-entries, recipes and letters sit alongside poems and short stories. An English Christmas could convert any Scrooge into an instant enthusiast.