Christmas Shopping from Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

As with most Mary Poppins stories, Christmas Shopping begins normally enough – a bus journey into town. But it gets stranger from there, thanks mainly to one of the most peculiar characters in all of children’s fiction. The titular nanny, cum immortal, who allows us to see a familiar festive situation through very different eyes.

‘I SMELL SNOW,” said Jane, as they got out of the Bus.

“I smell Christmas trees,” said Michael.

“I smell fried fish,” said Mary Poppins.

And then there was no time to smell anything else, for the Bus had stopped outside the Largest Shop in the World, and they were all going into it to do their Christmas shopping.’

Illustrations by Gertrude Elliott

The beautifully decorated shop window catches all their attention. For Michael it’s toys, for Jane dolls. Mary Poppins though is most interested in herself.

‘”Look, aeroplanes!” said Michael, as they stopped before a window in which toy aeroplanes were careering through the air on wires.

“And look there!” said Jane. “Two tiny black babies in one cradle—are they chocolate, do you think, or china?”

“Just look at you!” said Mary Poppins to herself, particularly noticing how nice her new gloves with the fur tops looked.’ 

She has little time for other immortals however.

‘Mary Poppins then had a great argument with Father Christmas over a cake of soap.

“Why not Lifebuoy?” said Father Christmas, trying to be helpful and looking anxiously at Mary Poppins, for she was being rather snappy.

“I prefer Vinolia,” she said haughtily, and she bought a cake of that.’

Then, just as they are about to leave the shop a creature appears, stuck in the revolving doors, every bit as unusual as the nanny: Maia the second star of the Pleiades.

“But what are you doing here?” demanded Michael, still very surprised.

Maia laughed. “Ask Mary Poppins. I am sure she knows.”

“Tell us, Mary Poppins,” said Jane.

“Well,” said Mary Poppins snappily, “I suppose you two aren’t the only ones in the world that want to go shopping at Christmas——”

“That’s it,” squealed Maia delightedly. “She’s quite right. I’ve come down to buy toys for them all.’

Shopping finally done, Mary Poppins and Maia share a moment that is about as close to humanity as the character allows us to get.

‘Moving close to Mary Poppins she reached up her spare arm and put it round Mary Poppins’s neck and kissed her. A long look passed between them, and they smiled as people smile who understand each other. Maia turned then, and with her hand lightly touched the cheeks of Jane and Michael. And for a moment they all stood in a ring at the windy corner gazing at each other as though they were enchanted.

“I’ve been so happy,” said Maia softly, breaking the silence. “Don’t forget me, will you?”

They could see in Mary Poppins’s eyes something that, if she were anybody else but Mary Poppins, might have been described as tears…’

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