Au pied du sapin, a collection of Christmas texts

December 22, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Au pied du sapin, which means Under the Greenwood Tree, but I think this title is already taken.

Someway the Christmas spirit was evading me this year and I decided to put myself in a Christmas mood. So I bought a CD of jazzy Christmas carols and started reading Au pied du sapin, a collection of texts related to Christmas. It’s a small book, most stories aren’t more than a few pages long. As you won’t find the exact equivalent in English, here are the stories included in the book:

Unexpected Christmas Eves:

  • Le Réveillon du Colonel Jerkoff by Joseph Kessel
  • Nuit de Noël by Guy de Maupassant
  • Un Réveillon dans le Marais by Alphonse Daudet
  • La Petite Fille aux allumettes by Hans Christina Andersen

Dream Christmas Eves

  • Noël by Théophile Gautier
  • Les santons by Jean Giono
  • Noël sur le Rhin by Luigi Pirandello
  • Un arbre de Noël et un mariage by Fedor Dostoyevsky
  • Noël quand nous prenons de l’âge by Charles Dickens

Unconventional Christmas Eves

  • La Fascination by Honoré de Balzac
  • La fugue du Petit Poucet by Michel Tournier
  • Conte de Noël by Alphonse Allais

Au_pied_du_sapinIt’s a great list from various authors and it’s a good way to read in French if you want to improve your knowledge of the language. My favourite stories were the ones by Maupassant, Pirandello, Balzac and Dostoyevsky. I tried to read the Dickens twice but I couldn’t finish it. It’s only nine pages but its patronizing tone put me off.

Maupassant relates how a man got trapped for life for looking for the company of a woman on Christmas Eve. It’s Maupassant, so it’s not what you think and it’s quite surprising.

Pirandello’s story moved me. It’s a first Christmas in a family after the father died. A man helps decorating the Christmas tree. Sadness filters through the narration, Pirandello’s sensitive prose shows subtly how merriment in marred by the loss of a beloved husband and father. Life is fleeting, he seems to say in an undertone.

Balzac brings us into one of his familiar settings: the family of a former officer of Napoleon’s army. They are gathered for Christmas Eve, the servants are gone for the night. They’re sitting in the living room and Balzac describes the caring father, the loving mother and the children with many relevant details. He depicts the light of the candles and the fire on faces, the shadows in the room and how the feelings of the characters reflect in the setting. It looks like a Dutch painting. The peace is disturbed when a stranger pounds on the door and begs for hospitality. He brings a storm into the household…

Dostoevsky is bitterer as he relates a Christmas Eve party where he witnesses how a grown man lusts for a girl after her parents made it clear she would get a hefty sum when she marries. The contrast between the man looking at this eleven year old girl as his future bride and the girl playing with a doll is striking. It’s sordid, tainting innocence with greedy thoughts. It’s also even more shocking on a Christmas night. Dostoevsky makes it clear that daughters are commodities, livestock. Pretty, they’re valuable because a good marriage can bring in money or connections to the family.

As you can read, the stories are quite different and some are more essays than stories. (the Dickens and the Giono) I enjoyed reading this collection of texts, it was a sort of journey into time and places, visiting Christmas nights in different countries. It showed Christmas under a kaleidoscopic light: poverty, traditions, parties, family, grief, love, lust and all kinds of notions mixed up in one night.

A nice introduction to that time of year.

  1. December 24, 2012 at 12:38 am

    I always enjoy reading your reviews Emma even if I rarely comment (almost always it’s because of work pressure) but I wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas and to thank you for the selection of books that you review. It never occurred to me that a French book groups a selection of short stories, about Christmas non-the-less! If I would chose from one of the four stories you reviewed, I would go with Dostoevsky’s. To me, I prefer to have Christmas only felt in a story rather than it being its focal point; it’s the harsh reality that life does not pause for Christmas to pass, and I find it boring to either exult in its presence or sink in the pressures brought by it.
    Still, I wish you a Merry Merry Christmas!

    Like

    • December 24, 2012 at 10:42 am

      Hi Nino,

      Thanks for your kind message.

      The Dostoevsky and the Pirandello were the best. It was interesting to read different Christmas stories in a row.

      When you have children, Christmas is a different think. Even if your mind knows it’s become more commercial than anything else, you want to give them the magic you received as a kid.

      Like

      • December 26, 2012 at 3:27 am

        To be honest with you, at 32 years old myself, and with none of my relatives being younger than 19, yet my parents and grandparents still insist that we open the gifts on the 25th, which they place under the tree the previous night, as if we were still toddlers! So, cheers to the spirit of Christmas magic 🙂

        Like

        • December 27, 2012 at 9:34 pm

          They don’t feel old when they do that; it’s a way to keep traditions and magic. I think we all need rituals for comfort in this world.

          Like

  2. December 24, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    I’d like to read Pirandello next year. It sounds really good.
    It seems that many of Dickens’ Christmas stories, apart from A Christmas Carol don’t really work so well.
    I agree with you about Children and Christmas. While for me it’s no big deal, just friends for dinner, I think Id’ do much more if I had kids because I would also like them to experience it they way I did as a child.
    Joyeux Noël to you and your husband and kids. 🙂

    Like

    • December 24, 2012 at 3:43 pm

      I haven’t read any other Pirandello but I’d like to read the famous Six Characters in Search of an Author

      Joyeux Noël to you and your friends.

      Like

  1. No trackbacks yet.

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: