Christmas Stories: The Birds’ Christmas Carol

December 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 oneĀ  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.


  1. Oh dear, now I’m going to have to read this. I really liked Mother Carey’s Chickens and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, so I know Kate Douglas Wiggin is a good writer. I guess I’d better download The Romance of a Christmas Card too.

    • Definitely download The Romance of a Christmas Card — it’s pretty much the reason I like Christmas stories. But there’s no reason you have to read The Bird’s Christmas Carol — I mean, Kate Douglas Wiggin has written lots of other stuff.

  2. I’m 99.9% sure this was in a Christmas treasury we had and I forgot all about it. Either that or there’s another story for the terminally ill children category.

    Actually for another candidate, though not terminal, Lousia May Alcott’s “Jack and Jill” focuses on the fact that Jill is bedridden after an accident. She takes to it much less angelically than Carol, though.

    • I can’t actually count how many stories about terminally ill children I’ve read — they’re all over the place. But I don’t recall having read a Christmas one before.

      I have a copy of Jack and Jill that I’ve been meaning to read for a while. Louisa May Alcott tends to be pretty good about not making ill children angelic when they’re not terminal. And, actually, at making them bearable even when they are. At least, Beth wasn’t my least favorite thing about Little Women.

      • I like Jack and Jill very much and re-read it frequently. A few Christmases ago, my mom gave me a book with three short stories, all Christmas themed, by Louisa May Alcott (no terminally ill children in any of them).

        • Do you remember what it was called? I think I might have had my fill of Christmas stories for this year, but I might want to put it on next year’s list.

          • It’s called “The Quiet Little Woman: A Christmas Story” and it came out in 1999.

  3. I read The Romance of a Christmas Card last night and really liked it. Especially because it was set in Beulah, NH, which is also the setting of Mother Carey’s Chickens and had some of the same characters. Thanks for the recommendation!

    • Mother Carey’s Chickens is another one I’ve been putting off, I think.

      I’m glad you liked Romance of a Christmas Card. It’s by far my favorite Christmas story, and I actually have to stop myself from reading it multiple times during the rest of the year.

      • Mother Carey’s Chickens was the basis for the Disney movie Summer Magic, which I really liked because I was such a Hayley Mills fan when I was little. The book is even better.

        • I love Mother Carey’s Chicken and reread it frequently. Having read the book first, I was very disappointed in the Disney movie Summer Magic, even though I’m a huge Hayley Mills fan. And MElody, I actually like The Bird’s Christmas Carol–I first read it when I was about 10 or 11. I will have to check out The Romance of a Christmas Card, since you really like it so much.

  4. I used to read this book to my fifth grade students when I was teaching. They loved it.

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