Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Harry Potter Christmas

As I'm running around getting ready for Christmas in North Carolina, I can't help but think about the wonderful, snow-covered Christmases Harry spent at Hogwarts or with Sirius and the Weasley family.  With each book, J.K. Rowling seemed to delight in crafting something special for two specific holidays.  With Halloween usually came something appropriately spooky -- like trolls in the dungeon, or a Death-Day Party.  But with Christmas came a Great Hall full of decorated trees, presents from Harry's new and expanding "family," and often new clues for the developing mystery.

Here's some of my favorite tidbits from each of the Harry Potter Christmases.

Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone:
Seeing the Great Hall decorated for the first time with 12 magical Christmas trees ranks right up there with Harry having his best Christmas (away from the Dursleys!) ever.

For his first real Christmas, Harry gets:

  • a roughly cut wooden flute from Hagrid that sounds a bit like an owl
  • fifty pence from the Dursleys
  • an emerald sweater and box of fudge from Mrs. Weasley
  • a box of Chocolate Frogs from Hermione
  • and the invisibility cloak from Dumbledore

With the gift of the first sweater (jumper in the UK), Harry becomes an adopted member into the Weasley clan.  And as George says when telling Percy he has to sit with them at the feast rather than the Prefects, "Christmas is a time for family."

Three of these gifts are necessary tools to help Harry figure out the mystery surrounding Nicholas Flamel and the Philosopher's Stone.  The invisibility cloak helps Harry sneak around Hogwarts.  Flamel is revealed to the Trio through his Chocolate Frog card, and Hagrid's flute helps them get past Fluffy.


Beyond the wonderful Christmas feast and the fun wizard crackers, perhaps the greatest gift this first year came indirectly from Dumbledore.  When he not only returned James' invisibility cloak, but also left the Mirror of Erised out for Harry to discover, he gave Harry the wonderful, but addictive, gift of seeing his family alive beside him.

The Potters smiled and waved at Harry and he stared hungrily back at them, his hands pressed flat against the glass as though he was hoping to fall right through it and reach them.  He had a powerful kind of ache inside him, half joy, half terrible sadness. (p. 259, Scholastic)


Chamber of Secrets:

For Harry's second year at Hogwarts, he gets more gifts, another midnight adventure, and yet more clues.

Gifts:
  • from the Dursleys, a toothpick and a note asking him to stay at Hogwarts for the summer
  • a tin of treacle fudge from Hagrid
  • a book, Flying with the Cannons, from Ron
  • an eagle-feather quill from Hermione
  • and a sweater and plum cake from Mrs. Weasley

Once again Harry enjoys a lavish feast in the richly decorated Great Hall with warm and dry (the best kind!) enchanted snow falling from the ceiling.  The rest of the Trio's Christmas evening is spent drugging Crabbe and Goyle and then taking the Polyjuice so they can quiz Draco regarding the Heir of Slytherin.

Unfortunately, Draco says he doesn't know who opened the Chamber of Secrets, but shows an article about Mr. Weasley being fined for his bewitched car.  And worst of all, Hermione's transformation leaves her a half cat for a few weeks.  However, they do find out from Draco (via dear old Dad), that the last time the Chamber was opened was 50 years ago and the one who opened it was expelled.


Prisoner of Azkaban:

This Christmas day dawns a bit darker than the last ones.  Harry has recently found out that it was Sirius, his dad's best friend, who supposedly betrayed his parents, and Hagrid received a note that Buckbeak is a wanted hippogriff.

To shake things up a bit, while JKR briefly refers to Harry's gifts (a scarlet sweater from Mrs. Weasley with a Gryffindor lion, plus a dozen mince pies, cake and nut brittle ), Harry quickly brushes these aside to seize upon the mysterious Firebolt (from Sirius).

While Ron and Hermione fight over who could have sent the Firebolt, Crookshanks launches after Scabbers and Harry's Pocket Sneakoscope goes off.  Ron kicks at Crookshanks, misses, and...notice this little bit:
"You'd better take that cat out of here, Hermione," said Ron furiously, sitting on Harry's bed nursing his toe. (p. 226)
You think that hurt toe may be a clue to another missing digit in this book?

At the Christmas feast, Jo, through Professor Trelawney, introduces the idea that when 13 dine together "the first to rise will be the first to die!" (p. 228, Scholastic).  Although this dire threat does not play-out in PoA, as Harry and Ron rise together and neither dies, it does find fulfillment two books later in Order of the Phoenix when Sirius is the first to rise from a table of 13.

Alas, not only does Harry not enjoy a Christmas day adventure in PoA, but he also gets his brand new Firebolt confiscated by Professor McGonagall and a well-meaning, but immediately black-balled, Hermione.


Goblet of Fire:

This year, the halls of Hogwarts are bursting through the holidays with the Triwizard Tournament Yule Ball approaching.  The Hogwarts' staff goes all out in the decorations to impress their guests.  Of course, one of the items that impressed me the most was the level of detail Rowling takes her world building.  I still giggle over Peeves' rude Christmas lyrics sung through the enchanted suits of armor.

Harry is awoken this Christmas morning with Dobby looming over him in bed, anxious to give his present, and the reader is immediately given a contrast between Harry and Dobby.  While Harry, who'd not even considered getting a gift for Dobby, quickly dives into his trunk and pulls out "his oldest and foulest, mustard yellow" socks, which "had once belonged to Uncle Vernon" and passes them off as a gift to the house elf, Dobby gives Harry socks that he made himself, with wool purchased from his piddly wages from working at Hogwarts.  Perhaps this is why it was so important to Rowling two books later to have Harry dig Dobby's grave by hand to show his growth and new understand of the importance of relationships in life.

In fact, Harry doesn't even appreciate the significance of Dobby's gift at the moment, preferring instead the other "more satisfactory" gifts (save for the Dursleys'):
  • a single tissue from the Dursleys
  • Quidditch Teams of Britain and Ireland book from Hermione,
  • a bulging bag of dungbombs from Ron
  • a penknife to unlock any lock, undo any knot from Sirius
  • a box of sweets from Hagrid
  • and Mrs. Weasley's sweater with a dragon on it as well as mince pies

However, most of the excitement comes with the Yule Ball in the evening.  Ron and Hermione fight, Harry overhears Snape and Karkaroff talking about the Dark Mark, and then the shock of the overheard revelation from Hagrid to Madame Maxime of his being half giant.


Order of the Phoenix:

As the books grow darker, so too do the Christmas scenes.  In the fifth book, Christmas comes just after Mr. Weasley has been bitten by Nagini, nearly died, and Harry believes himself to be possessed by Voldemort.

On the bright side, Harry gets to spend Christmas at the home of his godfather Sirius and almost the whole Weasley clan.  On the dark side, Harry is afraid to be near them for fear that he may attack and kill those he loves most.  And while the readers can laugh over seeing Lockhart even dopier than before, offering his autographed picture with looped-up writing, it's painfully heart-wrenching to witness Neville's visit with his parents in the closed ward.  As Harry reflects, he'd never found anything less funny than the empty Drooble's Best Blowing Gum wrapper that Neville's mom gives him.

However, throughout the scenes, Jo manages to sneak in a couple of clues, such as the potted plant which does in Broderick Bode, and upon returning the Grimmauld Place, the reemergence of Kreacher looking happier, and more subservient, than before.

Harry's Christmas haul:

  • a homework planner from Hermione
  • Practical Defensive Magic book from Sirius and Lupin
  • a furry brown wallet with fangs from Hagrid
  • a small Firebolt model from Tonks
  • a box of Every-Flavour Beans from Ron
  • a sweater and mince pies from Mr. and Mrs. Weasley
  • and a "truly dreadful painting" from Dobby that turns out to be of Harry.



Half-Blood Prince:

After attending Slughorn's Christmas party, which ended with Harry eavesdropping on the confrontation between Snape and Draco regarding his mysterious "job" and Snape's vow, Harry gets to spend this Christmas warm at home with the Weasley clan and friends.  Last year, I did a more in depth post on Christmas Eve at the Burrow and the lovely clues Jo managed to weave into this scene.

It is Christmas Day, however, when the new Minister of Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour, visits the Burrow and Harry.  While Scrimgeour tries to persuade Harry to be the ministry's poster child in its fight against Voldemort, Harry questions the Minister's tactics as Scrimgerous interrogates him regarding Dumbledore's activities:
   'What is Dumbledore up to?' said Scrimgeour brusquely. 'Where does he go, when he is absent from Hogwarts?'
   'No idea,' said Harry.
   'And you wouldn't tell me if you knew,' said Scrimgeour, 'would you?'
   'No, I wouldn't,' said Harry....
   'Well, it is clear to me that he has done a very good job on you,' said Scrimgeour, his eyes cold and hard behind his wire-rimmed glasses, 'Dumbledore's man through and through, aren't you, Potter?'
   'Yeah, I am,' said Harry. 'Glad we straightened that out.' (Bloomsbury, p. 326)

What a distinct turnaround in Harry's attitude from the prior year when he'd been yelling at Dumbledore and his lack of attention through Phineas Nigellus Black.

Gifts:

  • a sweater with a Golden Snitch design from Mrs. Weasley
  • a large box of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes products from Fred and George
  • and a package of maggots from Kreacher (yum! love those maggots!)



Deathly Hallows:

Harry spends this last, and darkest, Christmas Eve in Godric's Hollow, visiting the home where Voldemort killed Lily and James, then his parents' grave, and finally fighting for his life against Nagini in Bathilda Bagshot's house.  As a final tragedy, as he and Hermione make their escape, Harry's wand is broken.

On Christmas Day, Harry and Hermione read a copy of The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore while recovering from their wounds on watch in their tent.  Harry is devastated to find out about Dumbledore and Grindelwald's friendship and their plan to subjugate Muggles for "the greater good."  He feels like he has lost it all...the wand he hoped would help him win-out over Voldemort, his faith in his mentor, and his best friend Ron.

Perhaps, then, as a belated Chrismas present, shortly after midnight on Boxing Day, Harry follows the Silver Doe and discovers not only the Sword of Gryffindor, but the present he most needs at this moment...the restoration of Ron by his side and the hope that the other losses may also be found anew.


If you'll notice, with all these Christmas scenes, JKR manages to expand upon similar themes throughout the course of the series, while varying the scenes and deepening and darkening the story.  From the first Weasley sweater that proclaims Harry as one of the Weasleys, to Christmas with his godfather Sirius and visits on the closed ward where Neville visits his family, to Harry's Christmas Eve trip to his family's homeplace and gravesite, family is probably the most crucial element of all Rowling's Christmas scenes.  Along the way, however, she throws in adventures, danger, and loads of clues.

If you're writing a series and have incorporated recurring elements, such as a holiday, have you considered how you can use developing themes and contrasting action and images to alter these elements from book to book?  And, on a less writerly note, how many of you have wanted to spend Christmas at Hogwarts?  I think I'd actually prefer the Burrow!

Happy Holidays to All!
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