Although Beatrix Potter only wrote one classic Christmas story (the Tailor of Gloucester), she returned to the season in different ways throughout her career. A prodigious letter writer, Potter designed cards and sent fans seasonal missives from her characters, like this one from Peter Rabbit.
‘You know we do not move our tree; we leave it growing in the wood. When Christmas-tide is over, it looks like any other little fir tree. But you should see it on Christmas Eve! All aglow with fairy lights and hung with hips and haws and holly berries & nutcrackers and mouse toffee in silver paper and nutcrackers and garlanded with chains of sparkling icicles. Then all of us little animals dance round, around, around while Cock Robin sings overhead and Pricklepin plays the bagpipes.’
There’s another Christmas dance in the story Demerara Sugar, taken from Potter’s only novella the Fairy Caravan (1929). Here we follow a trio of escaped hens as they set off for a Christmas picnic and stumble across a group of forest animals whose party is in full swing.
‘As the night grew darker – the branches of this little tree became all tipped with light, and wreathed with icicles and chains of frost. Brighter and brighter it shone, until it seemed to be a hundred fairy lights; not like the yellow gleam of candles, but a clear white incandescent light.’
Disaster strikes when a ‘disagreeable fusky musky person called John Stoat Ferret’ arrives. The hens take shelter in the Christmas tree, and are only saved by the arrival of a couple of boys. Hens safely tucked under their arms they return to the safety of the farm singing a festive wassail.
‘Here us comes a wassailing, under the holly green / Here us comes a wandering, so merry to be seen / Good luck good Master Hodgkin, and kind Mistress also / And all the little childer that round the table go! / Your pockets full of money, your cupboards full of good Cheer / A merry Christmas, Guizzards, and a Happy New Year!’
The last of our parties dates from early in Potter’s career, a series of six paintings made in the early 1890s depicting a family of rabbits enjoying a series of traditional Christmas diversions, like roasting apples around a blazing fire.
A frolicking game of blind man’s buff.
And finally departing into a winter’s night, lit by candlelight.
Peter Rabbit’s Christmas Collection is published by Warne.