This classic was sitting on my bookshelf, quietly begging to be included in my reading for the Christmas themed book challenge
. I could not ignore the pleas and am so glad that I read this. I had read abridged versions in school as we all did, but had never read the full novel. It is wonderful! Such a great read. I will start out as I always do with the first paragraph.
'On a bright December morning, long ago, two thinly clad children were kneeling upon the bank of a frozen canal in Holland.'
Author ~ Mary Mapes Dodge
We meet Hans and his young sister, Gretel, as they are strapping on their homemade wooden skates for a few minutes of early morning fun before their Mother calls them home for a long day of work and helping to care for their idiot (so the story calls him) Father. The Father had taken a bad fall from his dike work ten long years ago and has known nothing or no one since. Mother and Father had saved up their coins, but the very day that Father had been injured, those coins went missing, never to be found so the family has, years ago, fallen to the poorest of the poor. The children are both excellent skaters, but only have their old wooden skates which stick to the ice once they get wet. There is to be a race among the local kids and the winner in both the boys race and the girls race will win a pair of silver skates. One of the townsgirls, Hilda van Gleck, really likes both Hans and Gretel and wants to help them win the race, so she pays Hans a few coins to carve her a wooden necklace with the stipulation that he must use the coins to buy either himself or Gretel a pair of skates so that one of them can be in the race. Hans buys the skates for Gretel and a friend of Hilda's, Peter, then pays Hans for a necklace for his sister so Hans may also get a pair of skates. On the way to market to purchase the skates, Hans runs in to the great aloof Doctor and begs him to take his coins and please come to see if he can help his Father, who has taken a turn for the worse and is in great pain. The Doctor is intrigued by the case, does not take the money and tells Hans to expect him to be by the Brinker house in a few days time. Hans then continues to market and buys himself the much desired skates.
Is the great Doctor able to help Father before it is to late? Will Father die? Does Hans or Gretel win the big race and the silver skates? Are the lost coins ever found these ten years later? If you have not read this novel, pick it up. It is a wonderful classic tale. There is so much to this story that I was not aware of with just the short versions that we read in Elementary School.
Here is one passage that gives an insight into the Saint Nicholas legend in old Holland:
'We all know how, before the Christmas tree began to flourish in the home-life of our country, a certain "right jolly old elf," with "eight tiny reindeer," used to drive his sleigh-load of toys up to our house-tops and then bound down the chimney to fill the stockings so hopefully hung by the fireplace. His friends called him Santa Claus, and those who were most intimate ventured to say, "Old Nick." It was said that he originally came from Holland. Doubtless he did; but, if so, he certainly, like many other foreigners, changed his ways very much after landing upon our shores. In Holland, Saint Nicholas is a veritable saint, and often appears in full costume, with his embroidered robes, glittering with gems and gold, his mitre, his crozier and his jeweled gloves. HERE Santa Claus comes rollicking along, on the twenty-fifth of December, our holy Christmas morn. But in Holland, Saint Nicholas visits earth on the fifth, a time especially appropriated to him. Early on the morning of the sixth, he distrubutes his candies, toys and treasures, and vanishes for a year.
Chistmas day is devoted by the Hollanders to church rites and pleasant family visiting. It is on Saint Nicholas' eve that their young people become half wild with joy and expectation. To some of them it is a sorry time, for the saint is very candid, and if any of them have been bad during the past year, he is quite sure to tell them so. Sometimes be carries a birch rod under his arm and advises the parent to give them scolding in place of confections and floggings instead of toys.'
I really enjoyed this classic Christmas tale.