The holidays mean reflection via Dylan Thomas for one middle school class
Christmas tree decorating, watching 'The Grinch,' and playing in the snow are staples of their winter holidays, say seventh- and eighth-graders in Maine.
The assignment for my seventh and eighth graders was to select one of Dylan Thomas’s topic sentences, each borrowed from a paragraph of his famous “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” and use it to begin their own recollection of their local or familial holidays. We had read Thomas’s wonderful story, watched an excellent film version of it, and looked outside as the snow hushed Castine on Wednesday morning – inspiring writing weather, to be sure, for kids in a harbor town in the northern latitudes.Skip to next paragraph
Todd R. Nelson is head of school at The School in Rose Valley outside Philadelphia. He has been a Monitor contributor of Home Forum essays, poems, Op-Ed commentaries and feature articles since 1989. He writes a monthly column for Teachers.net. He and his wife, Lesley, have three adult children.
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You could begin, “One Christmas was so much like another, in those years....” Or perhaps you preferred, “All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea....” I am fond of this one: “There are always Uncles at Christmas.” With such prompts, it was important to review two crucial writing rules: "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story." And "It’s all true, even if it never happened." It was time to stretch out and inhabit the feeling of the season in words, to don the mantle of Thomas and Wales and merge wolves in Wales with Castine with cherished candy, mittens, firemen and tipsy aunts.
“Bring out the tall tales now that we told by the fire,” wrote Thomas. And so we plunged our hands in and brought out the memory of the year Olivia and Jacey made the snow dog, instead of snowman, and named him Veggie Bob Dog, due to his broccoli eyes, cauliflower nose, and carrot mouth. On the same day they invented jelly snowballs. “You have to pack the snow together, and dig a little hole in it,” said Jacey – which tasted pretty disgusting, according to Olivia.
Christmas means movies: "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," "White Christmas," "The Nutcracker," or the ubiquitous "Grinch." Surely he is one of the salty, bitter tongues of the see of Christmas – the spoiler, the gift thief, and the humbug.
What about the uncles, or aunts, or visiting cousins; nonnies and nannies and oomas? One uncle lived in a tipi, with the ornaments and decorations hung from the poles inside. For one student, Christmas in California has a way of becoming cultural adventures for travelers from the East.
Any Maine forest-dweller knows that choosing exactly the right tree is “a very annoying, yet rewarding job.” With hundreds to choose from, it’s hard to detect “the perfect one for you, your family, and of course, your house.” Alex defined the rubric for choice: not “too tall, or too short; too narrow, or too wide; too wet, or too dry; too brown, or too green; too small, or too big; too many branches or too few; too saggy, or too lopsided.”