Advent Calendar 4th December The Thirteen Days of Christmas by Jenny Overton illustrated by Shirley Hughes

The Christmas carol The Twelve Days of Christmas is brought to life in this charming and amusing story of love, marriage and families.  This feels like a Christmas classic and would be a treat to read aloud.

13 Days of Christmas cover

Since her mother’s death Annaple Kitson, the oldest child in the family, looks after her father, brothers and sister. The family are none too happy about this arrangement since Annaple is a dreadful cook and nags her younger siblings about tidiness, cleanliness and doing things in a proper manner. Annaple dreams of romance and being swept of her feet by a dashing suitor and as Christmas approaches her father, when asked what he would like for a present, rather rashly, says, ‘’A husband for your sister.’’ Unfortunately Annaple’s sweetheart, the wealthy Francis Vere, does not match her romantic expectations so the children plan to help Francis win their sister’s hand in marriage. Francis agrees to their plan with enthusiasm and as the days pass the Kitson family home becomes the setting for an amusing and chaotic version of the carol The Twelve Days of Christmas.

This charming Christmas story is a reissue of a book first published in the 1970s and I can’t think how I missed reading this before. Set in an unspecified period in English history but possibly 16th or 17thcentury, this book supposedly tells the story behind the well-known carol. It has a delightful traditional feel and the lovely drawings by Shirley Hughes reinforce this.

13 days of christmas 1 Each of the chapters describes what happens on a specific day during the Christmas period starting with St. Nicholas’ Day and ending on the Feast of the Epiphany. When Francis arrives on Christmas Day with a partridge and a small pear tree in a red pot Annaple is delighted and charmed. However Francis confides in the children that as a wealthy merchant he is not used to buying single items so has bought his gifts in larger quantities. The children are encouraged by Francis’s commitment and the change in his manner but as the household becomes swamped by a variety of birds, daily deliveries of milk and visits by performers and musicians Annaple’s reaction changes and the children grow increasingly concerned that their plan may not be successful.

13 days of christmas 2

Jenny Overton tells her story with humour and I liked the way in which Francis gradually changed and his quiet and slightly serious character became more joyful. There were points in the story when I actually started to feel a little sorry for the besieged Annaple, particularly as the courtship became almost the equivalent of a soap opera for the local townsfolk. However, the final chapters and the ending are full of warmth and a touching scene between the two sisters.

The story is interspersed with extracts of traditional carols and the reader learns a great deal about forgotten Christmas traditions. This book would be wonderful read aloud over the Christmas period and would probably be enjoyed by all the family too. A lovely Christmas treat!

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