We hope you’ve all had a fantastic Christmas. It doesn’t feel as if things have got back to normal yet, even though today is a working day in the UK. We’re all off on holiday so I guess we’re still in that limbo mood. Unfortunately I have succumbed to a nasty virus doing the rounds here and spent most of yesterday in bed with a high fever but it didn’t stop us all from reading a lovely story together in front of the Christmas tree in the morning.
This year we decided to start a new tradition, which was to open one present from each of us to each other on Boxing Day. We had a very strict limit – it was to be a small, relatively inexpensive present, no more than £10. It was an interesting task as we all chose items that we knew would mean something to the other person and they had to be within the required spending amount.
Carl chose for me a lovely edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Fir Tree, illustrated by Sanna Annukka, which was released in October this year. I hadn’t seen it before and hadn’t read the tale before so it was a pleasant surprise.
Image courtesy of amazon.co.uk
For any of you who are not familiar with the story, it’s about a beautiful fir tree, who is never quite happy with his lot. In the beginning, children admire his lovely branches but the tree is impatient and jealous at other, taller trees that are selected by humans to be cut down and taken away. The migrating birds tell the fir tree that these trees often end up as the masts on sailing ships, and the fir tree is envious of their importance and their chance to travel the world. Then as the fir tree grows taller, smaller trees are selected for felling and are taken away to occupy pride of place in people’s parlours over Christmas. Again the fir tree is downcast – why isn’t he chosen?
At various points in the story, the sun tries to warn the tree to make the most of its life while it can:
‘Enjoy your youth! said the rays of sunlight. “Enjoy your fresh growth and the life inside you. The wind kissed the tree and the dew shed tears over it, but the fir tree did not understand.’
‘Take pleasure in us! said the air and the sunlight. “Take pleasure in your fresh youth out in the open!” But the fir tree felt no pleasure at all.’
Later that year at Christmas the tree is chosen and felled and at this point it becomes gradually clear that things are starting to go wrong. ‘The axe bit deep into its marrow, and the tree fell to the ground with a sigh. It felt a pain, a weakness, it couldn’t even think of happiness. It was sad to part with its home, with the spot where it had sprouted up, for the tree realised it would not see its dear old companions again: the small shrubs and flowers all around, maybe not even the birds. Leaving was certainly not pleasant.’
At this point in reading the story, we all looked at our beautiful Christmas tree and felt a stab of guilt. Christmas would seem an appropriate time of year to read The Fir Tree but we all felt complicit in its destruction and removal from the forest. Did it also feel pain when it was chopped down?
We carried on reading regardless, even though we were all commenting on how sad it was. The Fir Tree is taken to a very important house where it is decorated with candles and all sorts of beautiful ornaments. The family dance around it and the Fir Tree feels important… until it is dragged upstairs and stuck in a dark attic two days later, unadorned except for the paper star on its top. As it lies in the dark and airless place, the tree remembers the forest it was so desperate to leave and wishes it were back there, with the birds and other animals for friends, and the light and the air. Will it ever return to its former home?
I’ll leave the ending for you in case you’ve not read it. As is to be expected there is a moral to the story, which you’ve probably guessed. Basically not to wish your life away, to enjoy what you have every day and to try not to look too far ahead into what may happen, as it might not seem the blessing it appears to be. As with most, if not all, Andersen’s tales, it is sad, though not heartbreakingly so, even though we are all still feeling guilty over our poor Xmas tree!
The illustrations in this edition are stunning. Annukka has infused geometric shapes with bold and beautiful colours that leap off the white page but are not garish. There is a sense of patterning within the shapes themselves which is clever and intricate.
The mice listening to the Fir Tree’s story – image courtesy of pinterest.com
The trees previously felled became masts on ships that travelled the world – image courtesy of juxtapost.com
This is a beautiful book to read, to look at and to hold, and I thoroughly recommend it, even if it makes you feel a little guilty about having a Christmas tree in your house!
After listening to The Fir Tree, Holly decided to write a poem about trees.
loved all the little bees
but one little tree didn’t just like the bees and birds
he liked all the little animals in the woods just like the bees and the birds.
The tree ate air
and loved to watch the little hare
play down by the stream with his friends, his friends.
For the tree find it mends his big enough heart that he lends.
The tree lives today in the wood of Bankhoven
to share all the love that in the world is woven.