Hardy recreates a typical Dorsetshire Christmas, with music and merriment, but what did the Christmas message mean to him?
In the days when labouring classes worked long hours, and for the majority, material comforts were small, Christmas was a time (aside from the formalities of necessary religious observance,) for the exchanging of news, folklore, legend and jokes. For those fortunate enough to be invited to the Hardys’ cottage on Christmas Eve, there was the added bonus of food and drink to feed the body, and music – home-made of course – to lift the spirits and nourish the soul. Hardy’s descriptions of such Christmases, as were celebrated by himself and his family, together with his colourful portrayals of characters – in particular the members of the ‘Mellstock Quire’ whom he described as his favourites – have delighted generations of his readers, and continue to do so. This then, is the story of Thomas Hardy and of Christmas, of what that greatest of all Christian festivals meant to him, and of how his beliefs changed as the years progressed.