A Child's Christmas in Wales
A Child's Christmas in Wales is a prose work by the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Originally emerging from a piece written for radio, the poem was recorded by Thomas in 1952. The story is an anecdotal retelling of a Christmas from the view of a young child and is a romanticised version of Christmases past, portraying a nostalgic and simpler time. It is one of Thomas' most popular works.
Dylan Thomas had recorded work for BBC Radio from 1937, when he first read poetry and talked about his life as a poet. Although his radio work was a minor source of income, in the early 1940s he began writing radio scripts, and in late 1942 he wrote Reminiscences of Childhood, a 15 minute talk broadcast by the Welsh BBC in February of the following year. This was followed by Quite Early one Morning in 1944, recorded in Wales and produced by Aneirin Talfan Davies. Although popular in Wales, when Davies offered the recording to London for national broadcast it was rejected, as the BBC was unimpressed by Dylan's 'breathless poetic voice'. In 1945 Lorraine Davies, the producer of Welsh Children's Hour, wrote to Thomas suggesting a talk entitled 'Memories of Christmas'. Thomas thought that this was 'a perfectly good title to hang something on' and by the autumn he had finished the work. It was accepted by BBC London, but the Children's Hour director, Derek McCulloch (Uncle Mac), was unhappy about allowing the 'notoriously tricky' Thomas to read the piece live, which was the practice of the show. McCulloch wrote to Thomas pretending there were technical reasons that prevented recording on that day and Thomas recorded the work in advance.
Almost five years later, Thomas enlarged his 1945 BBC talk 'Memories of Christmas' merging in sections of an essay written for Picture Post in 1947 'Conversation about Christmas'. He sold the work which was published under the title 'A Child's Memories of a Christmas in Wales' to American magazine Harper's Bazaar for $300 in 1950. On his 1952 tour of America, Thomas was visited at the Chelsea Hotel by college graduates Barbara Holdridge and Marianne Mantell, who believed that there were commercial possibilities in recordings of poetry. After finding little interest from American backers in medieval music and Shakespeare recitals, the women looked at recording contemporary authors reading their own work. For the 45 minute recording, Thomas agreed to a fee of $500 for the first 1,000 records and a ten percent royalty thereafter. Holdridge and Mantell were forced to fund the fee after no interested publisher could be found, and a contract was drawn between Thomas and the women's company, Caedmon Audio, created especially for the purpose. The recording made on 22 February was originally to contain his poems "In the white giant's thigh", "Fern Hill", "Do not go gentle into that good night", "Ballad of the Long-legged Bait" and "Ceremony After a Fire Raid". Thomas said he wanted to read a story and suggested "A Child's Christmas in Wales", the title the work became known under from that time. Thomas arrived at the studio unprepared, and a copy of Harper's Bazaar from 1950 containing the text had to be found; Mantell stated she believed Thomas to be drunk during the recording. The recording sold modestly at first, but became his most popular prose work in America. The original 1952 recording was a 2008 selection for the United States National Recording Registry, stating it is "credited with launching the audiobook industry in the United States".
Thomas died a year after the recording, in New York. In 1954, 'A Child's Christmas in Wales' was published in book format as part of the American pressing of "Quite early one morning" by New Directions. The story was first published under its own title in 1955, again by New Directions. The book has been republished several times since and due to its short length, lends itself to illustrations. A 1959 pressing by New Directions contained five wood block engravings by Fritz Eichenberg, the 1968 Dent edition featured woodcuts by Ellen Raskin, while a 1978 publication by Orion Children's was illustrated by Edward Ardizzone, followed by a 1985 version by Holiday House with images by Trina Schart Hyman.
Like his poetry, 'A Child's Christmas in Wales' does not have a narrative structure but contains several descriptive passages designed to create an emotive sense of nostalgia. The story is told from the viewpoint of the author recounting a festive season as a young boy in a fictionalised autobiographical style. In the first passage Thomas searches for a nostalgic Western belief in Christmas past with the line, It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. He furthers the idyllic memory of childhood past by describing the snow as being better and more exciting than the snow that is experienced as an adult. The prose is comedic with exaggerated characters, used either for comedic effect or to show how childhood memories are enlarged due to youthful interpretation.
The story has been adapted as a play, film and animation. In 1982 a stage adaptation of the work by Jeremy Brooks and Adrian Mitchell was commissioned by the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1987, a television film, A Child's Christmas in Wales, was adapted by Jon Glascoe and Peter Kreutzer, starring Denholm Elliott. In 2008 a Welsh language animated version was produced for S4C, which was voiced by actor, Matthew Rhys who played Dylan Thomas in the 2008 film The Edge of Love. A one-off period comedy A Child's Christmases in Wales, inspired by the short story, was broadcast as part of the Christmas 2009 season on BBC Four, starring Ruth Jones. It was described as peeping into the lives of a South Wales family's Christmases across the 1980s and was written by comedian Mark Watson.
A song, "Child's Christmas in Wales", was written and recorded by Welsh musician John Cale on his 1973 album, Paris 1919. The song is inspired by, rather than an adaptation of, A Child's Christmas in Wales, although elsewhere Cale has recorded settings of Dylan Thomas' verse.
It is traditional for students of Davenport College at Yale University to hold a dramatized reading of "A Child's Christmas in Wales" on the final day of the winter term. The tradition is said to be almost sixty years old as of 2014, although the origins are apocryphal.
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