An impossibility is just a possibility you don’t understand.
Well, okay, so it kind of isn’t. Not yet at least.
But with everything decorated so prettily, and the trees, markets and Glühwein, I can’t help but feel absolutely festive already.
So in light of my Christmas-y mood, I decided to take matters into my own hands damn it!
Christmas here starts now, and there is no better way to get into the holiday spirit than with Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas.
Let me just take a quick moment to mention the cover.
The illustration of Nikolas, our protagonist, looks like it’s lifted from a Roald Dahl book, which already makes it look like a great modern classic.
Also, the white details have glitter on them. Although it makes it very pretty and Christmas-looking, word of warning: it sheds a bit.
I love this book so, so much. It’s funny, sweet, sad at points – it’s got everything. All of the jokes really worked for me, and I was pulled in immediately by the first page:
You are about to read the true story of Father Christmas.
Yes. Father Christmas.
You may wonder how I know the true story of Father Christmas, and I will tell you that you shouldn’t really question such things. Not right at the start of a book. It’s rude, for one thing. All you need to understand is that I do know the story of Father Christmas, or else why would I be writing it?
It’s got that Roald Dahl-esque snarky sarcastic humour to it at points, without slipping into nastiness.
It’s hard to talk about this book without giving anything away, and as I do wholly recommend to buy this book ASAP and read it and share its beauty, I’ll just do a quick summary with my thoughts before I move on to spoiler territory.
Essentially this is the story of how a young, poor, Finnish boy called Nikolas becomes Santa Claus. He goes through several hardships along the way: his mother passed away and he and his father are very poor. To make money his father leaves for an expedition to the North, leaving Nikolas with his mean aunt – but he does not come back. Anxious to see his father and to leave his aunt, Nikolas sets off to chase after him. He encounters weird creatures and has several adventures along the way. Annnd this is really all I can disclose without giving things away.
As I said above, this book is very touching and hits all the Christmas spots you’d expect: a poor young child going through incredible hardships around Christmas time being rewarded for his kind nature and good heart, snow, reindeer, magic – the lot. Those types of stories are usually too sappy and cheesy for me, and I can’t actually enjoy them. The thing about this book is that it is also just so funny. The tone is usually quite light and humourous, which makes the heavier, sad moments bear so much more weight.
In addition to this, Matt Haig managed to do something incredibly difficult with the protagonist here: he created a disenfranchised child with a heart of gold, who is actually interesting. Nikolas is not unlike characters like, say we keep the Dahl thing going, Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Suffering extreme poverty but still sharing all he has, being kind and altruistic without even thinking about it – these are all good traits to have. They are also boring and unrelatable when they are the main features of a character (here’s looking at you, Charlie). Yet I was crying at some points in this book, when terrible things happened to Nikolas and he had no choice but to endure them, I laughed out loud when he was funny, and I felt satisfied when things turned around for him. I love Nikolas. Having such a strong and enchanting main character is part of the magic of this book.
Another part of it is that this book takes risks – which I will talk about here in the spoiler section! The next spoiler-free point will be marked by the picture.
Some things in this book I did not expect.
One of them was that Nikolas’ aunt boiled up his turnip doll and fed it to him. She fed it to him. That is so mean and evil, I cried. This boy who had nothing, whose turnip doll was the only reminder of his late mother, suffers so much abuse it is surprising the book as a whole is still funny and happy. That was the straw for Nikolas, and he decides to leave to find his dad – and more power to him.
When Nikolas’ father went missing, I thought he was either a) dead, or b) living with the elves. When it was revealed that his father actually abducted an elf and was the mastermind behind the crime it broke not only Nikolas’ heart, but mine as well. It is so major, because Nikolas absolutely adored his father, he looked up to him. And so did the reader; they’ve lived a rough life, and Joel (the father) has lost his wife, and he managed to raise his son wonderfully until he has to leave to be able to provide for him. You can’t help but respect the guy – but then that gets damaged when you find out he betrayed the elves’ trust and had always intended to do so. After Joel redeemed himself by helping Nikolas safe the elf child, he straight up dies. He sacrifices himself so that Nikolas and the elf can escape.
‘I’m weighing you down!’ said Joel. ‘I’m going to jump.’
The words ripped at Nikolas like teeth.
‘No, no, Papa! Don’t!’
He turned around. Joel’s face was full of another kind of pain now. The pain of farewell.
‘I love you Nikolas!’ he yelled. ‘I want you to remember me for something good!’
‘No, Papa! It will be …’
This is heavy, dark stuff, and quite risky for an amusing Christmas story about Father Christmas’ youth. It is also a great example of why taking risks is worth it: if we did not have the dramatic and, probably, traumatic backdrop, the happy and bright side would lose its shine. The deeply sad moments make the end rewards for Nikolas feel so much more justified and deserved.
Phew, now I’m done fangirling about this book it’s time to pair it with a tea.
Obviously it needs something very Christmas-y. Something with Elvish cuisine – berries, chocolate, gingerbread. It needs to be light of tone, but not too light as to mismatch with the heavier moments.
Because of this, I think this book will go perfectly with Yumchaa’s Once Upon a Christmas. This tea is a blend of apples and pears, giving it that fruity flavour, cinnamon and nutmeg for the gingerbread taste, and a hint of distilled Christmas food memories: cranberry. It’s got a Rooibos base, so it’s not as heavy as a black tea but definitely stronger than a green tea would be, and for this book you need a tea with some body. So a Rooibos is perfect! I also like the colour, as it goes well with my cute little tree.
So get your tissues and your cuppa holidays out, and let this book warm your heart – and the tea your soul.