fiction favorites…The Thirteen Days of Christmas

The Thirteen Days of Christmas, by Jenny Overton, illustrated by Shirley Hughes

When Prudence Kitson asked her father what he would like for Christmas, he sighed and said, “A husband for your sister.”  Her brothers, James and Christopher, agreed with him.  Their elder sister, Annaple, had looked after the family ever since Mama had died.  She was charming and pretty and well-meaning, but she was also a very bad cook.  She forgot the pie in the oven or the stew on the fire so often that dinner was burned five days out of seven…But although she was hopelessly vague in the kitchen, she was very brisk everywhere else; much too brisk for the family’s comfort.  “James, have you made your bed?…Christopher, you need a haircut.  Papa, give me your coat.  I must let out the buttons, you’re beginning to put on weight.”
“Francis wants to marry her.  So he says,” James looked up from the ship model he was making.  “He says that if she marries him she’ll never have to cook a meal again.  He’s got enough money to pay for a cook and a housekeeper and probably half a dozen maids as well.”
“Well, why won’t she marry him then?”
Prudence said, “She thinks he isn’t romantic enough.  Too unimaginative, she says.  Too solemn.”

It’s Christmas-time in Tudor England.  Annaple, the beautiful oldest daughter in the Kitson household, has burned one too many dinners and scolded far too many times to please her kindly father and harrassed siblings.  The fabulously-wealthy nobleman, Francis, is desperate to marry her, but Annaple won’t have him, her head being full of romantic notions of picking lavender in the countryside, churning butter in her own charming dairy, and singing to the music of a harp.  It’s up to Annaple’s siblings to coach Francis in the art of romantic wooing.  “Do something fanciful,” they encourage him.

Francis is a quick learner.  He shows up on Christmas Day with a miniature pear tree, occupied by a delightful, plump, partridge.  Annaple is charmed.  The next day, a messenger appears at the Kitsons’ bearing an ornate, gilded cage housing two cooing turtledoves and, surprisingly, another potted pear with partridge.  Francis likes to purchase things in large lots, it seems, so he has a dozen of these pear and partridge combos to send Annaple.  As Francis’ gifts keep becoming more elaborate, more difficult to manage, more embarrassingly conspicuous, Annaple’s brothers and sister fear that Francis has become a grand annoyance to their sister.  This was not the plan!

In the end, of course, things turn out swimmingly, but you’ll have to read to find out just how.  This is a sweet, ridiculous, funny story of a man head over heels in love and the extraordinary lengths he goes to during the twelve days of Christmas to woo his lady fair.  Meantime, the traditions for keeping each of the twelve days are an intriguing mix of old and modern British customs, with some completely invented ones as well.    Written in 1972, and illustrated by Shirley Hughes in black ink drawings, this makes a lighthearted family read-aloud for ages 7 or 8 and up.

Here’s the Amazon link:  The Thirteen Days of Christmas