Saturday, February 07, 2009


The Bird's Christmas Carol, Kate Douglas Wiggin, Houghton Miflin Company, 1886, 69 pp

I read this book every year for many years as a child. It never failed to enchant me or make me cry. On this re-reading, after so many years, I began reading in my currently somewhat cynical frame of mind. How could any children be this good? How typical of the rich versus the poor can you get?

The Bird family, Mr and Mrs Bird, three sons, Grandma and Uncle Jack, are thrilled by the new baby, born on Christmas day and named Carol by Mrs Bird as the Christmas anthems peal out from the nearby Church of Our Savior. Carol is loved by all as she grows, but she is not well and becomes weaker every year. Yet she is also filled with love and busies herself with projects for those less fortunate, such as her "Circulating Library" for a local children's hospital.

Carol is fascinated by the large yet poor family living in a coachhouse behind the Birds' home. She wonders, "why do the big families always live in the small houses and the small families in the big houses?" She resolves to give them a wondrous Christmas and even earns some money from a story she wrote, as well as asking her family to buy presents for the Ruggles children instead of for her. The party is a huge success, Carol is fulfilled and dies peacefully in her bed that night. She is only 10 years old.

As nearly as I can determine, I loved this story as a child because, due to my Christian upbringing, I knew I was supposed to be like Jesus, but being strong willed and rebellious, I failed at this daily. Carol on the other hand excelled. In my secret heart, I longed to be as good and loving as Carol.

But the real feat accomplished by Kate Douglas Wiggin is a story that positively glows with the wonder of Christmas as it feels to small children. I felt it again as I finished the story. And I even shed a few tears again all these many years later.

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