Some of my favorite Christmas stories are chapters from books that aren’t all about Christmas. Although I read all of the Anne of Green Gables books as a child, I had forgotten about this Christmas chapter from the first book until a couple of years ago. My local library acquired Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories by L. M. Montgomery. ”Matthew Insists on Puffed Sleeves” was the first selection (and in my opinion, the best of the bunch.) In this chapter, the orphan Anne Shirley has been with Matthew and Marilla, the aging bachelor and spinster, for some time, and they are beginning to be a family. Matthew, who’s very shy and unworldly, nevertheless notices, when a gaggle of girls come to practice for the Christmas concert, that Anne’s clothes are unfashionable. The struggles he goes through to obtain a fashionable dress as Anne’s Christmas present are both funny and charming. The opinionated, but good-hearted Rachel Lynde comes to his rescue, and even the starchy Marilla unbends a bit. You can read the story here if you don’t have a copy of Anne of Green Gables.
Lucy Maud (L. M.) Montgomery, 1874-1942, had an early life that in many respects mirrored that of her most famous character; her mother died when Maud was not yet 2 years old and she was principally reared by her grandparents. However, it appears that they were stricter than Matthew and Marilla. She also taught school and had early ambitions to be a writer; Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908, but she had published magazine and newspaper stories before that. She is much honored in Canada, having appeared on postage stamps and been remembered in more than one museum at sites where she lived.
I realize now that I was being anachronistic when I chose the song Ding! Dong! Merrily on High to go with this tale, for it was not published until 1924, although the tune dates back to the 16th century. George Ratcliffe Woodward (1858-1934) wrote the lyrics (as well as the verses for Past Three O’Clock) and published them in his The Cambridge Carol-Book. The exuberance of the tune reminds me of Anne Shirley’s personality; the consciously archaic words (“Let steeple bells be swungen,” forsooth!) probably would have appealed to Anne, who was not above a bit of affectation herself.The rendition I chose to include was an instrumental by the Baltimore Consort, whose album Bright Day Star is one of my favorite Christmas CDs. (It should probably be titled Branle l’Officiel as it’s only the tune and not Woodward’s words. According to the website Hymns and Carols of Christmas, the tune name should be translated something like “Brawl in the Servants’ Hall.) In my search for a video to post, I found this excellent little group singing it in a benefit concert one of the singers had arranged. As Anne Shirley wore her dress with the puffed sleeves to a concert meant to raise funds for a school flag, I thought this was an appropriate performance to share.