So we arrived at six finalists for the 2012 Best Betty Christmas vote, as listed below. Not to influence anyone’s thinking or independent judgment or anything, but I suspect this is the one that will get my vote.
Damsel in Green (1970)
Caroline's Waterloo (1980)
A Girl to Love (1982)
When Two Paths Meet (1988)
The Mistletoe Kiss (1997)
A Christmas Romance (1999)
One reason I suspect this: I know Sadie Gillard and Oliver Trentham’s names without having to look them up. The best I can do on the others is DiG’s heroine first name and hero last name, CW’s heroine first name (hint provided), and I may never forget that ACR stars Theodosia. Betty Keira will post Betty Debbie’s full reprise of A Girl to Love on Monday, but meanwhile I shall remind you, at more length than intended, of the wonderfulness of the Christmas celebration it shares with us.
Background: Sadie’s granny dies five weeks before Christmas, and Sadie has to sell the cottage in Chelcombe, a small village in Dorset where she’s lived for most of her 23 years. Fortunately, Oliver buys the place and hires her to housekeep for him and his two small daughters. In the grand British Betty tradition of upper-lip-stiffening, Sadie mourns Granny for about three paragraphs and then starts making the best of things – and one of the best things is that Christmas is coming, and someone has got to make the season festive for the girls, since their haughty, cold-hearted governess sure won’t do it, and Dad is too emotionally insecure and work-burdened to be proactive in the matter. Beautifully, and love-inducingly, he pitches in when offered the chance.
As, for instance, when he bundles Sadie into the Aston Martin Volante (not socking great in size, but great in awesomeness) and heads to Bath for a spot of gift-getting. Sadie buys herself some more colorful clothes as well, including a sapphire-blue dress to wear on Christmas – and for Neels aficionados, perhaps a skosh of foreshadowing... Later, we get to peek over Sadie’s shoulder as she composes her lists of household necessities for this most consumerist of holidays, and tag along as she makes her purchases at both Mrs. Beamish’s village shop and at the “splendidly old-fashioned grocers” in Bridport, where, “they offer you a chair, you know, and call you madam.”
Coming away from Bridport, Oliver frowns, prompting Sadie to ask, “You don’t like Christmas?” “It’s become a commercial holiday, I seem to have lost the real Christmas years ago,” he replies. Sadie assures him, “You’ll find it again in Chelcombe.”
Or perhaps in Bridport, for after the two little girls arrive, Sadie proposes a trip to that city to see Father Christmas parade through town. The festive air is infectious, and kinda-sorta leads to the dismissal of the vile Miss Murch. With her gone, the happy almost-family is free to make paper chains, with Oliver “making rather a botch of it,” but at least he’s trying. And he’s happy to take the girls and Sadie shopping, in Dorchester this time, so they can buy presents for each other, including a shocking tie for Dad and a garish headscarf for Sadie.
We also have mention of the carol service at church, the children’s party at school, carol singers arriving for mince pies, “tying up of parcels and, for the first time in years, a great many Christmas cards.” By Christmas Eve, the cottage is festooned with holly and colored paper, and the pillowcases are ready for stuffing with gifts.
Then, yay! it’s Christmas morning and Anna and Julie crowd onto Sadie’s bed with Tom the cat to open their gifts. Oliver joins them with the tea tray, and amongst the garish headscarves, hankies and knitted gloves, Sadie receives an “extravagant box, tied with bright cords and.. awash with tissue paper.” It contains a real silk blouse and skirt in amber: “Its elegance was indisputable. Just looking at it made her feel beautiful,” and, in fact, brings her to a teardrop or two of happiness. Plus a demand that she “kiss Daddy thank you,” which she does, chastely on his cheek.
Walking to church through the snow, carving turkey “in a masterly fashion,” and playing with new dolls and their hand-sewn outfits, before a late tea and bit of record-player listening, round out a “lovely day.” I am quite sure we have all re-discovered the spirit of Christmas at this point.
Of course, Betty doesn’t neglect the quintessential experience of the holidays: cleaning like crazy, making a big mess of everything, and then tidying up again. On Boxing Day, Oliver invites an unknown number of people over for drinks and titbits, which requires Sadie arising at the crack of d. to manufacture the sausage rolls Oliver is accustomed to ordering from Fortnum’s, and staying up late to clear away the dishes and napkins after a singularly successful drinks party.
Spirit of Christmas, indeed. Plus, they're -- spoiler alert -- engaged by New Year's, so loving and giving abounds for ever after.