About Christmas TV History

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Child's Christmas in Wales (1987)

This post is part of the Christmas Movie Blogathon hosted by Family Friendly Reviews this weekend.  Click on THIS LINK to visit the Family Friendly Reviews' master list of all the participating essays on Christmas entertainment in this blogathon.

Have you even heard of this TV special?  I originally saw it on PBS.

I wanted to share about the 1987 TV special A Child's Christmas in Wales--even though many people have never heard of it.  Maybe, precisely because many people have never heard of it.  Even if you won't find it airing this year amongst your many favorite Christmas TV favorites--it is easily found on numerous, almost generic, Christmas movie collections on DVD being sold at WalMart and similar retailers.  I'd like the opportunity to share with you the specialness of this hour-long TV special--and why you shouldn't overlook it.

Old Geraint is played by the underrated actor Denholm Elliott.

If the title sounds at all familiar, maybe you recognize that this TV special is adapted from a short story/prose poem by the same title written by one of the great modern poets, Dylan Thomas.  (It's also possible that you've heard the story before--Dylan Thomas originally read it on radio broadcasts which he regularly participated in).  Much of the original story is found in this TV special--it is heard as the words of the story's narrator, Old Geraint, as he shares his memories of Christmases past with his grandson Thomas.  Elevating this TV program into art, Dylan Thomas' original lyrical words and grand imagery are used in the narration by Geraint.

Old Geraint gives his grandson an antique snow globe and begins to share his own personal Christmas memories from his youth.

The TV special has a short introduction with a family gathered together on Christmas Eve, decorating the tree. Young Thomas is allowed to open one special gift--a snowglobe containing a miniature Welsh village-- and the grandfather, Old Geraint, begins to share his memories of the Christmases of his youth spent in Wales.  We then cut to many filmed scenes depicting turn-of-the-twentieth-century Christmas moments as narrated by Old Geraint as a child.  There are scenes of snowball fights, the extended family gathered together for Christmas dinner with blazing puddings, roasted chestnuts, and Christmas crackers.  The narrator discusses the joyful anticipation of waiting for the postman to make his daily holiday deliveries, and about Christmas presents--both useful ones like scarves and hats, as well as "useless ones," such as toys and candies.

One of the memories Geraint shares is enjoying Christmas dinner with the whole family.

Another precious memory is receiving lead soldiers for Christmas and fantasizing about the military men waging battles. (This segment in the TV special is stop-motion animation as the soldiers appear to move about in formation).

While some of these Christmas memories are general reminiscences about Christmas traditions, others are very specific experiences.  There’s a story of the fire brigade called to a neighbor's home to extinguish a smoky chair lit from an abandoned tobacco pipe.  There's also another story of a group of young boys who go caroling and end up frightening themselves when they sing at the door of a stranger's home and hear a weak and fragile voice on the other side of the front door join them in song. 

Old Geraint also shares about his family's tradition of singing together at Christmas.  Doesn't everyone have an amusing uncle that loves to sing funny songs?

One Christmas long ago, Geraint recalls telephoning the local fire department to help a neighbor extinguish an upholstered chair that had caught fire from a forgotten tobacco pipe.

Though the scenes described above may not sound anything but ordinary--that is exactly the point of Dylan Thomas' story and this TV special.  Even Geraint expresses that his childhood experiences were quite ordinary ones--typical of the times and probably much like other peoples' Christmas traditions.  The joy of this hour-long TV program lies not necessarily in the stories themselves but in the act of remembering and sharing these memories with younger family members.

While sharing his Christmas memories, Geraint gets out the family album to share old photos with Thomas.

Just as Geraint acknowledges, your family's experiences may be ordinary ones but they are special to you and those you share them with.

This TV special (and original prose story) celebrate the Christmas tradition of recalling years past.  The belief that "Christmas is for children" doesn't just mean actual children, but also that Christmas is about returning to one's own childhood experiences to re-live those pleasant, joyful holiday moments from the past.  What I love about A Child's Christmas in Wales is that it is a reminder that some of our most cherished Christmas experiences include the tradition of reminiscing itself.  We should allow ourselves to indulge in recalling wonderful and warm holiday memories, and to share this tradition with the young ones in our lives.  Reminiscing is as much a part of Christmas tradition as decorating the tree and singing carols.

Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned on this website can be found in her book "Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies." Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. She is currently updating and expanding the encyclopedia for a 2021 release. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701 press.com

*Support this website and its research by purchasing the books at 1701 press.com


  1. CBC used to air this special regularly, but reading your wonderful review has reminded me that it has fallen off their schedule recently, and that's a shame. Is it wrong that thinking of this makes me want to startle my cats with a couple of snowballs? Probably. Merry Christmas!

    1. Hahahaha!

      It's not easy to find on TV south of the Canadian border anymore either. Luckily, it is fairly easy to find on DVD--especially when you recognize the title and know what the program is about. Thanks for commenting!

  2. I just saw this special a few days ago for the first time (it did air on Vision TV in Canada this year) and wasn't that impressed. I do, however, like your analysis and comments about the idea of reminiscing, but found that this wasn't done in the best absolute way (A Christmas Story did this in a much better way, for instance).

    Have you ever seen the BBC's modern adaptation called "A Child's Christmases in Wales"? I also saw this for the first time this year and found this pretty funny. It relates three Christmases as told by a teenager reminiscing about Christmas in 1983, 1986 and 1989. This was quite funny in my opinion and it is well worth discovering (it's available in four parts on YouTube).

    Joanna, I did receive your Encyclopedia for Christmas and have started looking through it. It looks spectacular! Thanks for putting together such a reference book.

  3. I have never seen this special, but it seems great! I loved the "feel" of the pictures, they really look like something coming alive from the memories.
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)