NWR Issue 119

Christmas Days and Winterson at Hay Festival Winter Weekend

What an inspired mess is Christmas. Santa Claus, spruce trees, elves, gifts, coloured lights, decorations, magic…. Jeanette Winterson, Christmas Days

Magic is what makes Jeanette Winterson’s book, Christmas Days, complete. It is a collection of tales bursting with magical realism, ghost stories, mystery, miracles, and humanity. It is impossible not to feel the whimsy of Christmas warm your soul as you absorb its words and warnings. I don’t know how else to describe it without giving too much away, except to say that the book is like a Christmas pudding. It is the usual cakey classic stuffed with currents of Winterson’s wit and set ablaze with a good helping of fiery magic.

I fell in love with Winterson’s spell-binding book as I read it, after looking for a Queer winter read, and I was ecstatic when my girlfriend told me she had discovered Winterson was to be reading at the Winter Hay Festival. We just had to go.

The town of Hay itself is, of course, entrancing. It could be found on the front of a Hallmark Christmas Card, it’s so classically beautiful, with stone shops aglow with beautiful window displays and dozens of bookshops to feed the word hungry among us. A glinting brass band played Christmas music as we walked through the streets, and various delicious delights were being offered from white tents strung up for the weekend. Our excitement rose throughout the day.

When the time for Winterson’s event came, we managed to bag a seat close to the front of the tent. It was huge and packed with adults, teens, old people, children, babies, couples, and more, all waiting for the author to appear. And we were not disappointed. Winterson came on stage in a beautiful velvet coat and began. It struck me that if Winterson had not become a writer, she could be an actor. Her voice came alive with different characters, tones, settings, pitches, and blew us all into a stunned silence. She was like a one-woman pantomime as she read the Dickensian tale, ‘The Christmas Frog’; animating the various pops and bangs for the children in the front rows. Her tone became sombre and full of longing as she whispered the story ‘Spirit of Christmas’, which is about a couple re-discovering their love for each-other as well as compassion for the world. This may sound corny, but it is a rather eerie tale with an unsettling child-apparition and a night full of surreal confusion to shake up the trope.
Winterson didn’t read my favourite tale, ‘SnowMama’, which is about a neglected child creating a snow-woman who comes to life. This tale is about the philosophy of reincarnation, set into snow, just as much as it is a tale of heart-warming Christmas charity. Every part of Winterson’s book takes the normal and makes it unexpected. The book includes recipes. They may appear to be fillers to bind the book together, but in fact are honest snippets from Winterson’s life, told in an intimate voice to you alone. They might even be my favourite part of the book.

I told Jeanette Winterson how much I liked her recipes. I got to talk to her as we got our books signed. I had been ready to be intimidated, whilst waiting in line, only to find that Winterson was warmer than I could imagine as we talked. She was lovely, funny, and kind. Just as interesting in real life as she is in her pages. She even posed for a photo with us!

Going to the Winter Hay Festival and reading Christmas Days has been a truly wonderful and Winterson-ly magical experience that I won’t forget for many years to come.

Kaja Brown is a student in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University.


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