A Literary Year – December. Peter’s Christmas
There is one Christmas tale I have to read every year. In Denmark it is famous and as such I am not very original in my choice of “literary piece of the month”. However…I feel very strongly about it.
It is Peter’s Christmas (Peters Jul) by Johan Krohn, a children’s book in verse from 1866, a story from the old Copenhagen.
We follow little Peter and his family from the Christmas preparations until after New Year. From the hushed voices in the corridors and quickly hidden Christmas ornaments, to the baking of cookies and ordering of candles, red ribbons and prunes. From the goose to the cakes and the making of presents.
The book opens with these famous phrases:
I am so happy at this time.
Now yuletide snow is falling white.
And so Christmas is on its way.
Then comes Christmas Eve!
This night we hardly slept for joy
and the day has been so long.
In the afternoon Granny tells the impatient children a Christmas tale about Old (Father) Christmas who will visit every family. Where the children have behaved the true Christmas atmosphere will warm up everyone. Where they have misbehaved he will leave quickly, the candles in the tree will not burn well and Christmas spirit will never shine in that home.
And then finally – the tree! Decorated with sugar figurines, figs, apples, chocolate frogs, candy pigs, and, and, and.
Then they sing and all is wonderful.
After Christmas Eve the children play with their presents and get visited by the poor Rasmus who gets presents too and baked apples.
On the 6th of January Christmas ends. This is where my mother always cries a bit when she reads it aloud.
And Christmas ended –
The children found their books again
and went happy to school.
There they didn’t think about Christmas but
when they returned home
they played with their presents.
And even worse the last sentence regarding the Christmas tree when it is thrown out:
It was dead for sure,
but even then it was as if an old friend
left them for the last time.
The book has been illustrated various times. The first edition carried Pietro Krohn’s illustrations that I think are the most authentic – I know them in a beautifully coloured version.
In 1942 the book was re-illustrated with entirely different pictures by Herluf Jensenius which my mom and her generation prefers. They perhaps carry more artistic value, but still I cling to the old ones.
A new edition came a couple of years ago, but those illustrations were definitely too sweet.
Peter’s Christmas gives a romantic and ideal image of old Danish Yule, but after all it is not that far from my own Christmas and it is wonderful to read aloud or listen to. I am sentimental about it, but hey – it’s Christmas – why not be sentimental?!