BOOKS Christmas Feasts in Children's Books

Whether you're warming up with a mug of hot cocoa on the Polar Express, dreaming of dancing sugar plums or sipping 'smoking bishop' (the Dickensian equivalent to mulled wine), there's nothing like gathering with loved ones, old and new, to celebrate and commemorate the holiday season. In this article, Network News & Events Editor, Stephanie Cotela, explores the time-honoured tradition of Christmas feasts in children's books. 

Though the menu, more decadent than your average meal, is hotly anticipated, meticulously planned and lovingly prepared, there's always a chance you'll hit a few snags. In fact, the utterly disastrous dinner parties are often most memorable. Read on for a selection of hilarious, interesting and, at times, unexpected festive feasts and their significance in children's books. 

Let's begin with Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas. In this classic, the feast represents forgiveness and redemption. The repentant Grinch is granted the honour of carving the Roast Beast AFTER he steals the Who's Christmas presents the previous night. The Christmas feast — one of many things he despised — becomes the social event which grants him the inclusivity and happiness he so desperately needs. 

...Then the Whos, young and old, would sit down to a feast.
And they'd feast! And they'd feast! And they'd FEAST! FEAST! FEAST! FEAST!
They would feast on Who-pudding, and rare Who-roast beast.
Janet and Allan Ahlberg's Jolly Christmas Postman is showered with treats from the fairytale characters along his route; a pie from Mummy Bear, ginger beer with Red Riding Hood, mini mince pies courtesy of the Gingerbread Man and tea with Santa and Mrs Claus to warm him after a long sludge through the snow. As the title suggests, our postman is jolly throughout but his smile is widest once he's home, snug and cosy, enjoying his wine and cake and bit of respite. Nothing beats a relaxing feast for one after a hard day's work.
The Christmas Extravaganza Hotel by Tracy Corderoy and Tony Neal begins with a misunderstanding followed by disappointment when Frog shows up at Bear's house after misreading his map. (It was upside down so he's found himself in a remote wintry landscape instead of the extravagant hotel in which he planned to spend his holiday). Bear welcomes him and tries to entertain his guest with the limited resources that surround him. For instance, the all-you-can-eat North Pole breakfast bar, is replaced by homemade iced pastries with Christmas sprinkles and in place of mounds of artificial snow, the two new friends enjoy authentic snowy walks through the forest and picnic lunches. Thankful for the bear's generosity and surprised by how much unexpected fun he's had, Frog asks Bear if he can come again next year.

Even the best laid plans can go awry - quickly. If anyone knows that, it's Tomie de Paola's beloved Strega Nona (Grandma Witch). Under pressure to prepare her annual Christmas feast for the entire town, she must rely on Big Anthony, her birdbrain assistant to soak the baccala (dried codfish) in water - to ensure it's soft and not overly salty - every day until Christmas Eve. Not only does he "forget" to do this, he also neglects to buy the groceries needed to bake the cenci (fried pastry), cookies and roast peppers. Strega Nona refuses to use her magic to fix the problem believing "Christmas has a magic of its own." Still she must cancel Christmas dinner as she has nothing to serve to her guests. 

But it was all a ruse, Big Anthony arranged for the townspeople to cook the meal and surprise Strega Nona to show her just how much she is appreciated.

Merry Christmas, Strega Nona! This year we're giving you a feast.

Sometimes, even once you've pulled it off,  a force, completely out of your control, destroys it all. And by "force" I mean, the family pet. Let's talk about Helen Stephens' How to Hide a Lion at Christmas. Iris is sad to be travelling with her family at Christmastime because she will miss her lion. Not wanting the little girl to be upset, the lion follows her, incognito (sort of) on the train. After scaring the townspeople, he tracks Iris down at her aunt’s house. Everyone is happy for the lion to join in the festivities, despite the fact that he’s eaten their entire Christmas meal. Forgoing tradition, Iris’ family opt for pizza and they couldn’t be happier. 

I prefer pizza anyway!
Then there are pets who are slightly more sensitive to the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Judith Kerr’s Mog is not amused when her home is transformed by Christmas decorations and taken over by strangers. Not to mention her family’s lack of attention. She hides herself on the roof which sends everyone into a frenzied search to find her, but there she remains, unwilling to come down. In light of Mog's absence, breakfast the next morning is a sad occasion. But when she falls down the chimney, she’s scooped up and cuddled. Then she’s presented with her favourite treat —a boiled egg. 

FYI: The animated version of Mog's Christmas will be airing this Christmas on Channel 4.

This holiday when you’re sitting down to your Christmas feast — however modest or grand — remember, it’s not about the food. 

Merry Christmas and may your creativity blossom in the coming new year! 

*Header image: Ell Rose


Stephanie Cotela
 is the Network News & Events Editor for Words & Pictures online magazine. She writes across genres from children’s picture books to adult crime fiction and is particularly fond of ghost stories. Originally from New York she has been living in and around London for nearly two decades. Her debut middle-grade novel The Ghosts of Hawkthorn will be released in 2024.


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures.

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