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 he wrote for radio, recorded by Thomas in 1952, the story is an anecdotal retelling of a Christmas from the view of a young child and a romanticised version of Christmases past, portraying a nostalgic and simpler time. It is one of Thomas's most popular works.
Thomas had recorded work for BBC Radio beginning in 1937, when he first read poetry on the air and talked about his life as a poet. Although his radio work provided only 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 that was 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 Quite Early one Morning recording to the BBC in London for national broadcast it was rejected, as producers at the BBC were unimpressed by what was described as Dylan's "breathless poetic voice".
In 1945, producer Lorraine Davies of the 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 work on a reading for the show. 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 normal practice of the show. McCulloch wrote to Thomas pretending there were technical reasons that prevented recording it live on that day, and Thomas pre-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 titled "Conversation about Christmas". In 1950, he sold the work (published under the title "A Child's Memories of a Christmas in Wales") to the American magazine Harper's Bazaar for $300.
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 the United States for recordings of poetry. After previously finding little interest from American backers in medieval music and Shakespeare recitals, the women had turned to the recording of contemporary authors reading their own works. For his 45-minute recording, Thomas agreed to a fee of $500 for the first 1,000 records made, and a ten-percent royalty thereafter. After no interested publishing company could be found, Holdridge and Mantell themselves were forced to pay Thomas the initial fee, and a contract was drawn up between Thomas and the women's company, Caedmon Audio, for that purpose.
The recording, which Thomas made on 22 February 1952, was originally conceived of to consist of 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, however, said that he wanted to read a story instead, and suggested "A Child's Christmas in Wales", the title the work came to be known as from that time on.
Thomas arrived at the studio without a copy of his story, and a copy of Harper's Bazaar from 1950 containing the text had to be found for his reading. Mantell later stated that she believed Thomas may have been drunk during the recording. The recording sold modestly at first, but eventually became his most popular prose work in America. The original 1952 recording was selected in 2008 for listing in the United States National Recording Registry, which credits Thomas' reading of A Child's Christmas in Wales "with launching the audiobook industry in the United States". Thomas died, in New York, a year after making the recording.
In 1954, the story was first published in book format as part of the American pressing of "Quite early one morning" by New Directions Publishing. The story was first published under its own title as A Child's Christmas in Wales in 1955, again by New Directions, and has been republished several times since.
The story's short length readily lends itself to illustrations, and a 1959 pressing by New Directions contained five wood-block engravings by Fritz Eichenberg. In subsequent editions, the 1968 Dent pressing 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.
As with his poetry, A Child's Christmas in Wales does not have a tight narrative structure, but uses descriptive passages designed to create an emotive sense of the nostalgia Thomas is intending to evoke. 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", furthering his idyllic memory of childhood past by describing the snow as being better and more exciting then, than the snow that he experiences as an adult. The prose is comedic, with exaggerated characters used either for comedic effect, or to show how childhood memories are enlarged through youthful interpretation.
The story has been adapted as a play, as film, and as animation.
- Welsh musician John Cale wrote and recorded a song, "Child's Christmas in Wales", on his album, Paris 1919 (1973). 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.
- In 1982, the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in Cleveland, Ohio commissioned a stage adaptation of the work by Jeremy Brooks and Adrian Mitchell .
- Marillion recorded a spoken-word-over-music version of "A Child's Christmas in Wales", which was released on their fan club Christmas CD, Pudding on the Ritz (2008).
- In 2008, a Welsh language animated version was produced for S4C, which was voiced by actor, Matthew Rhys who played Dylan Thomas in the film The Edge of Love (2008).
- Comedian Mark Watson wrote a one-off period comedy, A Child's Christmases in Wales, starring Ruth Jones, inspired by the short story. Broadcast as part of the Christmas 2009 season on BBC Four, 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.
In popular culture
- There is a long-standing tradition 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 each winter term. This traditional reading of Thomas' story was said to be almost 60 years old as of 2014, although the tradition's actual origins remain apocryphal.
- Ferris (1989), p. 154
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- Ferris (1989) p. 214
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- Thomas, Dylan (Author and Narrator) & Collins, Billy (Introduction). "HarperAudio Presents A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES". SoundCloud. Retrieved December 24, 2014.