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To the world at large, Kate Douglas Wiggin is best remembered as the author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1903).  But in the Judd household, we recall her as the author of the bathetic yuletide classic The Birds' Christmas Carol.

The brief novella tells the story of Carol Bird, a sickly little rich girl born on Christmas Eve.  An impossibly good and generous child, she is inevitably doomed:

    "Dear heart," said Mr. Bird, pacing up and down the library
    floor, "it is no use to shut our eyes to it any longer; Carol
    will never be well again.  It almost seems as if I could not bear
    it when I think of that loveliest child doomed to lie there day
    after day, and, what is still more, to suffer pain that we are
    helpless to keep away from her.  Merry Christmas, indeed; it
    gets to be the saddest day in the year to me!" and poor Mr. Bird
    sank into a chair by the table, and buried his face in his hands,
    to keep his wife from seeing the tears that would come in spite
    of all his efforts.  "But, Donald, dear," said sweet Mrs. Bird,
    with trembling voice, "Christmas day may not be so merry with us
    as it used, but it is very happy, and that is better, and very
    blessed, and that is better yet.  I suffer chiefly for Carol's
    sake, but I have almost given up being sorrowful for my own.  I
    am too happy in the child, and I see too clearly what she has
    done for us and for our boys."

    "That's true, bless her sweet heart," said Mr. Bird; "she has
    been better than a daily sermon in the house ever since she was
    born, and especially since she was taken ill."

    "Yes, Donald and Paul and Hugh were three strong, willful,
    boisterous boys, but you seldom see such tenderness, devotion,
    thought for others and self-denial in lads of their years.  A
    quarrel or a hot word is almost unknown in this house.  Why?
    Carol would hear it, and it would distress her, she is so full of
    love and goodness.  The boys study with all their might and main.

    Why?  Partly, at least, because they like to teach Carol, and
    amuse her by telling her what they read.  When the seamstress
    comes, she likes to sew in Miss Carol's room, because there she
    forgets her own troubles, which, Heaven knows, are sore enough!
    And as for me, Donald, I am a better woman every day for Carol's
    sake; I have to be her eyes, ears, feet, hands--her strength, her
    hope; and she, my own little child, is my example!"

    "I was wrong, dear heart," said Mr. Bird more cheerfully; "we
    will try not to repine, but to rejoice instead, that we have an
    'angel of the house' like Carol."

    "And as for her future," Mrs. Bird went on, "I think we need not
    be over-anxious.  I feel as if she did not belong altogether to
    us, and when she has done what God sent her for, He will take her
    back to Himself--and it may not be very long!"  Here it was poor
    Mrs. Bird's turn to break down, and Mr. Bird's turn to comfort
    her.

Having reformed her family, Carol determines to help out the poor but numerous Ruggles children who live in the carriage house outside her window.  To this end she plans a Christmas Party for them and sacrifices her own gifts in order to buy them presents.  But after this happiest day of her life, she passes away in her sleep as the strains of a neighboring church choir waft through her window.  The Ruggles children are mortified that they may have caused her death:

    Sadness reigned, it is true, in the little house behind the
    garden; and one day poor Sarah Maud, with a courage born of
    despair, threw on her hood and shawl, walked straight to a
    certain house a mile away, dashed up the marble steps and into
    good Dr. Bartol's office, falling at his feet as she cried, "Oh,
    sir, it was me an' our childern that went to Miss Carol's last
    dinner party, an' if we made her worse we can't never be happy
    again!"  Then the kind old gentleman took her rough hand in his
    and told her to dry her tears, for neither she nor any of her
    flock had hastened Carol's flight--indeed, he said that had it
    not been for the strong hopes and wishes that filled her tired
    heart, she could not have stayed long enough to keep that last
    merry Christmas with her dear ones.

    And so the old years, fraught with memories, die, one after
    another, and the new years, bright with hopes, are born to take
    their places; but Carol lives again in every chime of Christmas
    bells that peal glad tidings and in every Christmas anthem sung
    by childish voices.

I fondly recall my Mother sobbing through this chapter as Jeff Farris, one of the neighborhood kids who basically lived at our house, asked plaintively, "Are you going to stop crying long enough to finish this?  I'll never find out what happened."  (NB: Here's a special visual aid--to imagine this scene in your head, simply picture a small gang of urchins in a rice paddie surrounding a woman on the verge of a breakdown )

I don't know that I'd go as far as my Mom (see her review) and say that every holiday requires a sobfest, but it doesn't hurt for those of us with health and plenty to be reminded that we are pretty lucky.  And even a certified curmudgeon like me still gets his heart strings tugged by this little tearjerker.

Dorothy C. Judd's Review:

                      If you are at all sentimental and believe, as I do, that no holiday season is
                      complete without at least one good cry (even if it's over the Hallmark
                      commercial), then I highly recommend that you read The Birds' Christmas Carol
                      by Kate Douglas Wiggin, written in 1886.  This book, which my mother and Aunt
                      Dot had read as children, was given to me for Christmas when I was about 10,
                      and read to me by my Uncle Sam.  Wiggin wrote so descriptively, even to
                      accents, that between her language, the colored pictures in the original
                      edition, and my own visualization abilities, highly developed from listening
                      to radio stories, I did not just hear the story, I experienced it.
                      The Carol of the title is a beautiful child, born into a loving family who
                      previously had only sons.  Of course she develops some unnamed illness and is
                      confined to her bed.  For the Christmas described in this book, Carol decides
                      that all she wants is to provide a marvelous holiday for the Ruggles family,
                      a boisterous gang of poor children, whom she delights in watching out her
                      bedroom window.

                      The description of each of these children, the outfits the mother creates for
                      each of them, the manners she tries to drill into them in preparation for the
                      great day will make you laugh right out loud.  You attend the celebration
                      rather than observing it!

                      Ah, and then
                      One Christmas, I was reading this book chapter by chapter to my own children
                      and some kids in the neighborhood. Though I had heard and read the story many
                      times over, when I reached a certain point, I just started sobbing.  One
                      neighbor child, Jeffrey, said, "Darn, now I'll never know how the story ends!"
                      But I did read the rest of the story, and I have to believe that it still has
                      a place in the heart.  Twenty years after I had read it to a class of
                      fifth-graders, I received a letter from one of those students saying that she
                      had remembered the story all of those years and had been overjoyed to find
                      the book that day while she was in a bookstore.  She said she could not wait
                      to read it to her own children!

                      (P.S. To be filed under, "Don't judge a book by its title: Had this book not
                      been read to me, I doubt I would have read it myself as I thought it was
                      about feathered birds, and they did not interest me at all.  But I was the
                      most fortunate of children in that I had an  aunt and uncle who read volume
                      after volume to me: Little Women, Little Men, Jo's Boys,  Eight Cousins,  The
                      Little Princess, Secret Garden,  all the Heidi books, all the "Little
                      Pepper" books, Mary Poppins, and countless others.  From this experience
                      developed my love of reading and of words. Knowing what a difference being
                      read to made in my life, I read to my own kids and  to my students, long
                      before it was fashionable, and now I have the joy of reading  to my
                      grandchildren.)

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B+)

  

Websites:

See also:

Christmas
Book-related and General Links:
    -Brief Bio: Kate Douglas Wiggin
    -ETEXT: Birds' Christmas Carol
    -ETEXTS: Author: Kate Douglas Wiggin
    -Manuscript Collection (Bowdoin College)

GENERAL: Christmas:
    -Meijer Fireside Stories (Christmas stories online)

GENERAL: Kids Books
    -Timeless Classics (recommended by Consumer Information Center)

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