“For years Christmas Day had been for him a day when one ate too much so as not to disappoint cook, stifled a great many yawns and made a lot of silly jokes to hide an inner sadness that was both a lament for romance and belief that had faded and a vague sense of unsatisfied expectation.”
How wonderfully this describes the majority of peoples festive season. The presence of ennui that the day entails, with no meaning attached to traditions which increasingly seem out dated and pointless. The gifts we exchange costing money we can’t really afford but think the recipient will be the richer for receiving. No fasting observed as in the past during Advent, which cumulated in the glory of the traditional feast
“But today in the company of Henrietta and Hugh Anthony, romance and belief and satisfaction were vicariously his again. He stood in the Cathedral during morning service with the children one on each side of him and sang “Hark the herald angels sing” aware that Henrietta whose eyes were beaming with joy and whose muff was swinging from side to side like a pendulum as her figure swayed in time to the music, was seeing a starlit sky full of wings and a manger with a baby in it and seeing them with her…..
Beyond Henrietta was Grandmother. She was sitting down with her eyes shut because she was tired with the Christmas preparations, but her mind was thankfully fixed upon the fact of God made man. She was too practical, of necessity too concerned with the details of daily living, to be romantic in her religion like Henrietta or quixotic like Grandfather, but her faith was the strength of her strong minded life.”
Here we have in a couple of well-crafted paragraphs Elizabeth’s passion for the Christmas season. The sacred meaning to her of the nadir of the Christian year, the eighty services she attended during her life, the words of joy, hope and redemption she had imbibed. This was the not only the meaning of Christmas, but the very reason it was celebrated, rather than the Winter Solstice that had preceded it.
“The Christmas dinner, too, seemed because of the children to take on a new value. The turkey was a noble bird, brought overnight by Father Christmas in his sledge and the flaming pudding, that they had stirred laboriously in its earlier stages, was alight with the wishes they had wished as the spoon went round,
And then came the ecstasy of present giving, and then a short walk to assist the processes of digestion, and then, at last, it was tea time and they were sitting in the drawing room…”
I can’t help thinking that for Elizabeth the actual meal itself would have been a chore to get through but for the closeness it engendered with her beloved family. In later life she always ate frugally and didn’t seem to enjoy rich or elaborate dishes, preferring a good loaf of bread, a nice piece of cheese, an apple from the garden, to a fine dining experience
But friends and family, especially children, were very important to her and I’m sure that if you had been lucky enough to slip in at her Christmas table she would have welcomed you with an open heart and wished you a very Happy Christmas and all Good Wishes for the coming Year.
Connecting where the clock registers six hours earlier. So glad for this reminder. Blessings beyond the winter solstice. Thanks be to God and His servant Elizabeth – and to you.
I second this comment. It’s a beautiful passage from the first of Elizabeth’s books I read when I was still at school. And ever since then I have had a query I am sure someone learned who loves Elizabeth Goudge will be able to answer: the origin of the quotation in City of Bells that begins:
“I hold him happiest
Who, before going quickly whence he came,
Hath looked ungrieving on these majesties …”
Grandfather tells Henrietta that the verse was written by “a heathen poet” but who? I’ve tried every way to search I can over the years but as this is clearly a translation I have got nowhere. It would be a Christmas gift if someone would be kind enough to share their knowledge.
Writing from Australia – wishing everyone a happy and holy Christmas.
Titus Lucretius Carus, A Roman Poet
Thank you so much!
Thank you for this beautiful Christmas card with your insights and Elizabeth’s words. For those of us who consider her a dear friend and mentor, they are doubly precious!
A Blessed Christmas to all!
Agree Elizabeth Goudge books have been my great friends all my life!
Thank you for sharing this warm Christmas message. Christmas is always a time for me to reread The Dean’s Watch. Merry Christmas and blessings in the new year to all Elizabeth Goudge friends!
Hello. I am reading this on the Winter Solstice. I love entering in to Elizabeth’s beautiful world every time I open one of her books. Every Christmastime I reread the Christmas Book. I first discovered Elizabeth’s stories when I read The Valley of Song when I was 11 or 12 years old. It remains my most treasured and favourite book of all time. Elizabeth obviously loved Christmas and revered the Christian message behind it, but I personally feel she would’ve marked the Solstice, too – or at least I’d like to think she would. Her description of the natural world is always so full of amazing observations and quite magical.
One of Elizabeth’s gifts is how her works allow us to connect with strangers and believe that we’d be friends should we ever meet. My introduction to her world was also The Valley of Song, given to me as a child. I still have my original copy and treasure it beyond words.
I’m sure we would! Such a special, magical book. As a child I always wished I could live in its world, and as an adult I still do! 🙂
Thank you for this heartwarming reflection. I love Elizabeth’s image of Henrietta’s “muff swinging from side to side like a pendulum.” I can just see a little girl full of excitement and happiness on Christmas morning. Happy Christmas!
Merci pour ce rappel. En cette période agitée à bien des égards, c’est un de ces moments de répit qu’il faut savoir accueillir et laisser s’en aller, comme le dit Lucilla. A moins de reprendre le livre et rêver que l’on célèbre Noël en compagnie d’Henriette et de sa famille. Où à Weekaborough avec Stella…Quel cadeau!
Joyeux Noël à vous tous qui aimez Elizabeth, et à tous les autres, dans le véritable esprit de Noël.
Thank you so much for your Christmas message! We are actually in Wells in a cottage on Tor Street and reading “A City of Bells” once again. It is that book which always brings us here from Virginia. A neighbor invited us to a community Carol sing and it was so wonderful. We also enjoyed a candlelight service in the Cathedral. No where feels more like Christmas than Wells! Robin and Manny
How wonderful. I usually reread The Dean’s Watch or the Pilgrims Inn every year but thiss year I am caught up in other things , so so happy to get this post on my email. Thank you from Ithaca, NY
Thank you for the beautiful Christmas message. All be best wishes to all of my friends and with many thanks for this lovely website. In my imagination I’m clasping each of your hands and wishing a better year ahead for us all!
It is summertime in New Zealand so it is very different reading of Christmas in the winter. I think it’s lovely that the magic was renewed for the Dean because of the children. And we remember the special Child who was born to show us love and compassion and justice.
Christmas blessings to all.
So happy to be in the “fold” -not only of one of my favorite books – like the Christmas play at the end of Pilgrim’s Inn – but with others from near and far who I have never met, but who have been there, too!
May you each and all have a sweet Christmas and a safe New Year, all relatives through dear Elizabeth!
Pilgrim’s Inn and The Scent of Water are the Elizabeth Goudge books I re-read most often, especially at Christmastime. Her writing has inspired me for most of my long adulthood. So happy to find others who love her as much as I do.
Thank you for this and for all the lovely comments. A happy, blessed Christmas to one and all and a good new year.
Greetings from Berlin, Germany.
Although I have been reading Elizabeth Goudge’s books for many years, it’s wonderful to learn about books I’m not familiar with! Thank you all for posting! Merry Christmas!
I first read City of Bells setting in the window seat of my then flat which overlooked Tower House. The setting for Grandfather’s House. This was 60 years ago and I still love rereading it as it brings Wells back so well.
I feel blessed that my daughter, Laura, loves Elizabeth Goudge’s book as much as I. She is excited to begin each one and we discuss why it is special. How good that she has scouted book stores and has even added to my collection.
So I am happy that I have someone who will treasure these as much as I have when I am gone. And perhaps pass them on to her little girls when they are grown.
how fabulous! I had an Aunt who loved her, but she is gone now, so I just enjoy by myself.
Oh that is a real blessing ! I have a dear friend in the States who shares my love of Elizabeth and her books. I’m happy to have contact with the like-minded.
Your comment is wonderful.
My favourite Christmas book is Herb of Grace, which I first read from our school library when I was about 13, in B.C., Canada, when its title was Pilgrim’s Inn. I appreciated it at the time for its basic story at the level I was capable of at the time.
I’m now almost 82, and have a second hand copy found decades later, and it’s been so compelling, I’ve re-read it many times, especially in December.
I savor Elizabeth’s amazing understanding of people of all ages, not forgetting young children and animals, and the spiritual growth and understanding that unfolds for her characters in that wonderful story for someone who was a spinster.
I loved learning about those post-war years which I lived in Canada, including the ration books, and so much appreciate the understanding of what life was like in the U.K. in those years.
This is one of my favourite books of Elizabeth’s too. A few years ago now, we went to Buckler’s Hard and the New Forest and discovered many of the places that feature in this story. Sadly no Herb of Grace though. Probably a made up home to rival Damerosehay.
Sally is the perfect wife for David, even if it takes a while for him to realise it.
How wonderful that you revisit the Herb of Grace every December. i do the same with several of the Christmas stories, especially The Deans Watch! I love hearing these letters from other lovers of these wonderful classic books! Thank you!
I reread The Dean’s Watch each year also. My mother gave me her copy of Pilgrim’s Inn years ago. I was si happy to discover Elizabeth Goudge! I live in Baltimore Maryland- I would love to visit England someday! I also have a young niece-in-law who loves Elizabeth. She spans generations!
A copy of the 1948 edition of Pilgrim’s Inn was given to me by Pamela Mayer, the woman who introduced me to Elizabeth Goudge – from her cabin in the Vermont woods. I have no idea how I lived without these books before then! I also sink back into E.G’s world whenever I need solace, need to be reminded there are others who feel the way I feel and can express those feelings so richly and deeply. I bless Elizabeth at every page with every reading – as I bless Pam – and wish I could sit down with them both, swaddled in quilts on a dark, rainy day – preferably at the cabin in Vermont – share toast and butter and tea, and talk and talk about what we see when we look out of our eyes! Laughing – and yes, also crying. I write this from my home in northern California.
Beautiful. Elizabeth has held my hand through the bad times and the good, since I first read The Little White Horse, hidden in a friend’s wardrobe! We were meant to be playing hide and seek. I didn’t want to get found;