Christmas parties that never happened: the best festive revels in literature

With ‘fictional’ Christmas parties in the news, it seemed only right to pick out for Boris Johnson some other festive shindigs that were figments of the imagination

It’s nearly Christmas, and everybody loves a good party. Even if the rules say you’re not supposed to have one. But wait! There was no party at Number 10! It was entirely fictional! The prime minister himself said so!

So in the manner of a Dickensian spirit of the season, let us visit Boris Johnson in his very reasonably refurbished chamber, where we find him huddled in his Metropolitan police-issue nightcap and Bullingdon Club nightdress, and take him by the hand for a tour of properly fictional Christmas parties.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Our first stop, of course, is London, behind a warehouse door, where old Mr Fezziwig and his employees will show us how a real office party should be conducted. From Dickens’s classic, of course, this was where the Ghost of Christmas Past transported Scrooge to show the miserly old goat that he did once know how to have a good time.

“There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer.” What’s more, the whole thing was done by 11pm, so no danger of everyone getting so drunk that they clean forgot the whole party had occurred at all.

A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

For more revelry, let us go west, to Thomas’s 1952 lyrical prose piece, where we find that “Always on Christmas night there was music. An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang Cherry Ripe, and another uncle sang Drake’s Drum. It was very warm in the little house. Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death, and then another in which she said her heart was like a Bird’s Nest; and then everybody laughed again; and then I went to bed. Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-coloured snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night.”

Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan and Eliza Scanlen in the 2019 film adaptation of Little Women.
Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan and Eliza Scanlen in the 2019 film adaptation of Little Women. Photograph: Landmark Media/Alamy

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

And further west, still, across the oceans, to the March household in Concord, Massachussetts, where the sisters are given a sobering prelude to their festive fun: “Merry Christmas, little daughters! I’m glad you began at once, and hope you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little newborn baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there; and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?”

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

Perhaps the universal credit uplift might have helped there? But apologies, Boris, let us away to something a little less socially aware: The Christmas party at the start of Bridget Jones’s Diary, where you might find more your sort of people in Bridget’s mother and her mostly appalling – and often arse-grabbing – guests. Pure 1996: Novelty jumpers, smoking indoors, and proper snow. Oh, and the inexorable sleaze-driven implosion of the Tory party.

Harry Potter by JK Rowling

But let us not tarry here, let us fly to that bastion of privilege where the elite send their children to be schooled – no, not Eton, but Hogwarts, where JK Rowling’s young wizards really knew how to party in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: “After a meal of turkey sandwiches, crumpets, trifle, and Christmas cake, everyone felt too full and sleepy to do much before bed except sit and watch Percy chase Fred and George all over Gryffindor tower because they’d stolen his prefect badge.”

We could go on, perhaps to Jane Austen’s Persuasion, and the party where “riotous boys were holding high revel”, or back to Dickens and Great Expectations, where Uncle Pumblechook behaves in the manner of uncles at Christmas the world over: “Every Christmas Day he presented himself, as a profound novelty, with exactly the same words, and carrying the two bottles like dumbbells.”

But let us leave our charge in his chamber, wondering if he is a man changed by his experiences, and now knows the difference between an actual fictional party and one that you don’t want anyone to know about. See him throw open the sash window and call out to a passing urchin, “Hallo, my fine fellow! You know that big party they had at the fine house with the black door?”

“I do, sir! Everyone is talking of it still!”

“Well it never bloody happened! God bless us every one!”


David Barnett

The GuardianTramp

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