Friday, December 23, 2011

The Father Christmas Letters by J.R.R. Tolkien

Did you know that Father Christmas can fill about a thousand stockings per minute? He is fast, but he still needs all the time zones to get gifts to children round the world. He has to plan ahead. He is helped by the elves, of course, but his primary assistant is North Polar Bear. Sometimes, North Polar Bear suffers untimely accidents, adding much drama to the annual toy distribution, but he is a loveable old bear who fixes the sleigh and cares for the reindeer. I know all of this from reading The Father Christmas Letters by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Tolkien began writing annual letters that his children would find on Christmas morning in 1920 when his son was only three. For the next twenty years, they read Father Christmas's stories which were often accompanied by colorful illustrations in envelops with unique North Pole postal stamps. One year the price of postage was two kisses. I can imagine the excitement of finding these letters each year. They must have been read and reread and discussed by John, Michael, Christopher, and Priscilla Tolkien.

When you read them (as you must), notice that the North Pole is a little like Middle Earth. There are Goblins, Elves, and Men (Snowmen and Snowboys). It is also like 1920s England, where Father Christmas, North Polas Bear, and the bear cousin celebrate St. Stephen's Day and Boxing Day. In 1931, the world at large is acknowledged, as Father Christmas explains that he sent fewer toys as he spent much of his time helping poor and starving people.

I wish I had thought to follow Tolkien's example when Laura was little. I hope there are still storytelling parents and grandparents to take up the task. I'm sure there are children who might enjoy charming Christmas stories. Read The Father Christmas Letters for inspiration.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Father Christmas Letters. Houghton Mifflin, 1976. ISBN 0395249813.

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