Christmas Stories: The Birds’ Christmas CarolDecember 9, 2010
It’s Christmas story time again! I started, as has become my tradition, with The Romance of a Christmas Card, by Kate Douglas Wiggin. It continues to be wonderful.
I thought I’d continue on with Wiggin for a bit, so the next thing I read was an earlier Christmas story of hers, The Birds’ Christmas Carol, which is a delightful combination of making fun of poor people and glorifying childhood illness. And by “delightful”, I mean “unpleasant and a little bit disturbing.”
Project Gutenberg has decided that the subject of The Birds’ Christmas Carol is “Terminally ill children — Juvenile fiction,” which might be my new favorite category if there was more than one book in it. I love PG’s subject headings, but I wish they applied them with some kind of consistency.
The terminally ill child — fortunately there is only one — is Carol Bird, not a song but a girl born on Christmas Day. She spends the first five years of her life being rosy-cheeked and red-lipped and unusually generous for a small child; she spends the second five years of her life being pale and patient and angelic and non-specifically ill. Clearly she is destined for death.
Carol not only brightens the lives of her various family members, but makes them better people. She also, at the age of ten, runs a circulating library for the benefit of children in the hospital.
Apparently, though, these things aren’t sufficiently angelic, so, for her tenth or eleventh birthday — I got a little lost, I think — she decides to provide a Christmas dinner for the nine poor children next door. And isn’t it entertaining that they don’t have enough nice clothes to go around, and that they don’t know how to behave in polite company? Wiggin certainly thinks so. But of course the angelic Carol doesn’t mind their bad manners at all, and additionally has given up her own Christmas present in order to buy things for the Ruggles children. This seems to be sufficient to qualify her for angel-hood, as she dies while listening to music from the church through her open window almost as soon as the Ruggles’ have gone home.
The whole thing made me feel a bit ill, to be honest, but Wiggin can kind of get away with it. She’s a good enough writer to make this story almost palatable, and she’s got all the necessary Christmas things — small children, a moral, an uplifting ending if not a happy one, and, most importantly, the Unity of Christmastimes. It’s just — angelic dead children, you know? I keep having to remind myself that I’m not required to like it.