Christmas always comes by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

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Young Joey never tires of saying that Christmas always comes, and this becomes a refrain through this heart warming story of Christmas away from home.
The two children discuss what will happen on Christmas Day: they run through the expectation of presents, of Christmas Pudding, a Christmas Tree, but older Ellie is more circumspect in what she says, she doesn’t want Joey to be disappointed, she knows that their life droving cattle on the long paddock is hardly a place where Santa and the trimmings will be in evidence.  She reassures him that Santa will find them and Joey hangs the socks out in expectation of the event.

1932 sees the country ravaged by drought and the family has no option but to find scarce water and feed along the road for their cattle. But the children wake early on Christmas Day and do find a Christmas Tree, one laden with ripe apricots, and covered in brightly colourful parrots. They marvel at what they see and an older man comes up behind them to remind them that they are on private property. But he  relents seeing clearly two young children in awe of his tree, imagining it to be a Christmas Tree, and he is reminded of his dead wife and her delight in the celebration. He offers the fruit to the children, telling them to ask their mother to come and cook two of his roosters and for their father to make use of the feed that is available on his farm.

And the story wraps up with the family celebrating Christmas in this man’s house, taking in all the things they dreamt of happening. A Christmas shared between strangers, their kindness making sure that the day is honoured.

This beautiful story reveals a multi faceted tale that underpins all the goodness that Christmas evokes; love, sharing, giving, companionship, family.  Joey says Christmas always come and it does, in the form of a solitary man on his property alone with his memories of his wife and the things they did together. He is able to share his memories with the family striving to maintain their mob of cattle in the hardest of times.

Whatley’s illustrations are magnificent, recalling a time when droving on the long paddock was the only way some farmers could survive, when times of drought meant families had to make tough decisions. Whatley’s old fashioned nib pen has sketched out detail that rings with the times: the loaded dray pulled along by a tired horse, the old socks hung on Christmas Eve, the sagging fence posts strung together with barbed wire, the sparse memories on the piano, the box of supplies by the fire where a billy boils. Each is reminiscent of times past, and will evoke questions from the younger generation for whom a microwave and fridge, car and new clothes are the norm. The apricot tree is a stalwart in many old gardens, laden with fruit at Christmas, children vying with the parrots for the fruit.

What a Christmas treat.

Themes: Christmas, Sharing, Loneliness, Droving.

Fran Knight