Archive: 1965 film illustrates Dylan Thomas's Christmas story


Continuing our series of rare BBC Wales archive footage, offering a glimpse of Christmas as it was once celebrated in Wales.

A film was made in 1965 to illustrate Dylan Thomas' nostalgic Christmas story - 'A Child's Christmas in Wales' and was read by the late Emlyn Williams.

A Child's Christmas In Wales was published in 1955. It is an anecdotal sketch of the festive season which emerged from a piece originally written for radio. It is an exercise in storytelling and Thomas recreates the experience of Christmas as though it were a fairy tale.

He describes an old fashioned picture book Christmas which is meant to be familiar to everyone. At one point, while the narrator is remembering festivities from the past the voice of a small child asks him "Were there Uncles, like in our house?" He replies: "There are always Uncles at Christmas," emphasising that the experience of Christmas does not change with time: it is a universal experience shared by everyone.

But Thomas is keen to emphasise that modern Christmases are not as good as the ones he remembers. In the past, "It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas". This remembered snow was not the same as that which we have now: it was a "dumb, numb thunderstorm of white," and far more exciting. Thomas recreates the nostalgic magic of a childhood Christmas when everything was brighter and better.

A Child's Christmas In Wales is about recreating the atmosphere of Christmas, and at the end of the story Thomas generates a real sense of magic. His closing line 'I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept' introduces a childlike spirituality and the suggestion of a wider mystery. The long smooth words of this sentence contrast greatly with the fast lists and choppy clauses of the rest of the story and they are a reminder that Thomas was by nature a poet.

Like Thomas' poetry, the story does not follow a narrative structure: it contains a series of descriptive passages all designed to contribute to an overall effect. Illustrated by Edward Ardizzone in 1978 for a definitive edition, this is one of Thomas' most popular pieces of writing, demonstrating his poetic ability to create vivid impressions of events and to invoke emotions.

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