William Cook

Comfort and joy

John Julius Norwich and Linda Kelly have both produced stocking-fillers packed with memorable, heart-warming quotations

John Julius Norwich loves Christmas dearly. ‘I just wish it didn’t come round about every three months,’ he says. I know how he feels. Christmas does seem to arrive sooner every year — not just because time seems to speed up as you get older, but because our avaricious shopkeepers can’t wait to start cashing in earlier each autumn. We all harbour fond memories of childhood Christmases, and do our best to recreate them for our children. We just wish the whole thing were confined to a few weeks rather than dragging on for half the year. It’s hard to feel full of Yuletide cheer when shopping centres put up their Christmas decorations before Bonfire Night.

Bombarded by advertisements which tell me the only way to have a merry Christmas is to spend more and more each year, I’m inclined to agree with Ebenezer Scrooge, whose magnificent misanthropic diatribe is reproduced in this seasonal compilation:

‘What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer? 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.’

An anti-Christmas anthology would actually be a jolly good idea, but apart from our old friend Scrooge (and a grumpy piece by George Orwell) you won’t find much Bah Humbug in John Julius’s Christmas stocking. His attitude was shaped by his childhood Christmases at Belvoir Castle with his uncle, the Duke of Rutland, which he describes in a charming introduction that’s almost worth the admission price alone. It reads like a scene from Brideshead, and I rather wish he’d written a whole book about this lost age instead of confining his vivid memories to a few tantalising pages.

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