Sunday, December 5, 2010

St Nicholas and The Good Master

Recently I re-read the two books that have my favourite Christmas Stories. They're both by Kate Seredy and and I believe are based on the author's childhood in Hungary. The Good Master was first published in 1932 and is set just before the first world war while The Singing Tree is set during the first world war.
The Good Master is about a young boy, Jansci, who lives on a horse ranch and his cousin Kate (the screaming imp) coming to live with his family.
For someone who likes nostalgia (ahum) this book is gold. The illustrations are beautiful and the stories a delight. Nothing major happens, but the details of farm life, of Easter and going to the fair are beautiful and there is lots of kid-friendly humour throughout. (Kate deciding her cousin is a girl because he wears skirts, and pushing him off the cart so she can drive the horses springs to mind) 
As a kid I read and re-read this book hundreds of times. I could imagine nothing better than to wear the beautifully multi-skirted, embroidered dresses that Jansci's mother made Kate from flax and to ride horses across the hungarian plains, pausing to listen to shepherds tell amazing stories.
The Good Master also has the most lovely description of why we give presents at Christmas that I've read. And I am determined to read it to the Sprocket and Poppet as soon as they ask any questions about Father Christmas.
On December 6, the children get into the sleigh to pick up Mikulas (Father Christmas) from the trainstation. Mikulas comes bringing presents for all the children of the village, which Jansci and Kate get to leave on their windowsills. Finally, they come to the last house of the village, where the poorest children live, but Mikulas's sack is empty except for Kate and Jansci's presents... And Kate and Jansci give up their presents (this is fiction!). Sniff.
Once home, Kate realises that Mikulas is actually her father in disguise, and they talk about who Mikulas really is - a Bishop in Russia who did so much good in his life that he became the patron Saint of children. Below is Kate's father's description of Mikulas's day and Christmas Eve.

"His day, which is December 6 became a holiday in Russia. They celebrated by giving each other, and especially the children who Saint Nicholas loved so much, beautiful gifts in his name. The habit spread all over the world. In some countries he comes on Christmas day. To us he comes today. We believe that on Christmas Eve the Christ Child walks on Earth and leaves gifts for everybody."
Kate looked up. "He does, really, doesn't he daddy?"
Kate's father smiled. "He does, really, Kate, my dear. He comes and puts love and tenderness in our hearts, so much love for each other that it overflows and turns into gifts we find under the Christmas tree."


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