- Books Name
- Yash Tyagi Coaching English Book
- ACERISE INDIA
- CBSE Class 8
The Best Christmas Present in the World
By Michael Morpurgo
The lesson "The Best Christmas Present in the World" tells a Christmas story set during a war. It reflects the soldiers' desire to be reunited with their families. On the other hand, it sheds light on the longing of these soldiers' families. Connie, a 101-year-old lady whose husband was a soldier in the British army, mistook her visitor as her husband Jim and named the so-called reunion "The Best Christmas Present in the World."
The story "The Best Christmas Present in the World" begins with the author deciding to purchase an old rolltop desk in poor condition. He'd wanted one for a long time and was confident he could restore it. As a result, he takes the desk home, and as he begins working on it on Christmas Eve, he discovers a secret drawer containing a letter addressed to a woman named Connie from her husband Jim. It stated that it was his last letter, dated December 26, 1914.
It was written during the war between Germany and the United Kingdom. It listed the sequence of events that occurred on Christmas Day 1914, or "a wonderful thing that happened," in Jim's words. He wrote about how, despite being from opposing countries, the two armies came together to celebrate the spirit of Christmas. For a while, they forgot about their differences and realised they had a lot in common. They drank schnapps, sausages, and rum together. Over a casual conversation, Jim and Hans Wolf formed a strong bond. They both believed that countries should negotiate peacefully and resolve conflicts through sports such as football or cricket.
The soldiers played football that day, and when their food and drinks ran out, they knew it was time to return to their trenches. They exchanged Christmas carols that night. In his letter, Jim describes the day and assures Connie that they will see each other again next Christmas. The author, after reading this letter, felt compelled to reach Connie. He finds the address mentioned on the envelope and learns that the house was burned down and Connie, a 101-year-old lady, now lives in a nursing home. He goes to the nursing home and gives the letter to Connie, who is overjoyed after reading it. She misidentifies the author as her husband Jim and refers to him as "The Best Christmas Present in the World."
I spotted it in a junk shop in Bridport, a roll-top desk. The man said it was the early nineteenth century and oak. I had wanted one, but they were far too expensive. This one was in a bad condition, the roll-top in several pieces, one leg clumsily mended, scorch marks all down one side. It was going for very little money. I thought I could restore it. It would be a risk, a challenge, but I had to have it. I paid the man and brought it back to my workroom at the back of the garage. I began work on it on Christmas Eve.
- Junkshop- A shop selling miscellaneous second-hand or old out of use material
- Bridport- A market town in Dorset, England
- Roll-top desk- a writing desk with a flexible cover sliding in curved grooves
- Clumsily mended- unprofessionally repaired as if by someone unskillful
- Spotted it- saw it; found it
- Scorch marks- burn marks
- Was going for- was selling for
- Restore- repair (here)
The story begins with the narrator present in a second hand store. He had wanted a roll-top desk for a long time but had been unable to obtain one due to their high cost. Finally, he came across one at a Bridport junk shop. The seller told him that it was made of oak and dated from the early nineteenth century. It was in poor condition, despite its age; the roll top was not in one piece, one of its legs was poorly repaired, and it had burn marks on one of its sides. Because it was old and in such poor condition, it was available for a very low price. The narrator was so desperate to get it that he believed he could restore it even though it was unlikely. As a result, he paid the shopkeeper and took it home. On Christmas Eve, he took it to his workroom in the back of his garage and began working on it.
I removed the roll-top completely and pulled out the drawers. The veneer had lifted almost everywhere — it looked like water damage to me. Both fire and water had clearly taken their toll on this desk. The last drawer was stuck fast. I tried all I could to ease it out gently. In the end I used brute force. I struck it sharply with the side of my fist and the drawer flew open to reveal a shallow space underneath, a secret drawer. There was something in there. I reached in and took out a small black tin box. Sello-taped to the top of it was a piece of lined notepaper, and written on it in shaky handwriting: “Jim’s last letter, received January 25, 1915. To be buried with me when the time comes.” I knew as I did it that it was wrong of me to open the box, but curiosity got the better of my scruples. It usually does.
- Veneer- a thin layer of plastic or decorative wood on furniture of cheap wood
- Taken their toll on- damaged
- Stuck fast- shut tight
- Brute force- achieved through the application of a lot of force
- Sello-taped- fastened or sticked with transparent adhesive tape
- Scruples- feelings that make you hesitate to do something wrong
The desk was in bad condition, and it appeared to him that water and fire had done enough damage. The fact that all of the decorative wood or veneer was coming out made it more likely that it was water damage. He completely removed the roll-top and began removing the drawers. The last drawer was stuck while the others were being removed. He tried gently pulling it out, but when that failed, he had to use extreme force to get it out. When he punched the drawer with the side of his fist, there was a space underneath it. It was a hidden drawer containing a black tin-like box. On its top side, there was a letter with the words "Jim's last letter, received January 25, 1915." In shaky handwriting, "To be buried with me when the time comes." He knew in his heart that opening the box was wrong, but curiosity got the better of him, as it often does, and he opened it.
Inside the box there was an envelope. The address read: “Mrs Jim Macpherson, 12 Copper Beeches, Bridport, Dorset.” I took out the letter and unfolded it. It was written in pencil and dated at the top — “December 26, 1914”.
When he opened the tin box, he found an envelope inside. It was labelled with an address. "Mrs Jim Macpherson, 12 Copper Beeches, Bridport, Dorset," it said. The narrator took the letter from his pocket, unfolded it, and began reading. It was written on December 26, 1914, as noted with a pencil on top of it.
Dearest Connie, I write to you in a much happier frame of mind because something wonderful has just happened that I must tell you about at once. We were all standing in our trenches yesterday morning, Christmas morning. It was crisp and quiet all about, as beautiful a morning as I’ve ever seen, as cold and frosty as a Christmas morning should be.
- Frame of mind- a particular mood that influences one’s attitude or behaviour
- Standing to- taking up positions
- Trenches- long deep ditches in the ground where soldiers hide from the enemy
- Crisp- (of the weather) cool, fresh and invigorating
- Frosty- (of the weather) very cold, with frost forming on surfaces.
The letter starts with an informal and friendly salutation to Connie. Jim reveals that he is writing in a very happy mood and is about to share the details of a wonderful experience he had. He tells her about the day before, when all of them (the army) were in their trenches. It was Christmas morning. The weather was cool and quiet, making the morning, as he described it, one of the most beautiful he had ever seen. There was frost everywhere, just as it should be on Christmas morning.
I should like to be able to tell you that we began it. But the truth, I’m ashamed to say, is that Fritz began it. First someone saw a white flag waving from the trenches opposite. Then they were calling out to us from across no man’s land, “Happy Christmas, Tommy! Happy Christmas!” When we had got over the surprise, some of us shouted back, “Same to you, Fritz! Same to you!” I thought that would be that. We all did. But then suddenly one of them was up there in his grey greatcoat and waving a white flag. “Don’t shoot, lads!” someone shouted. And no one did. Then there was another Fritz up on the parapet, and another. “Keep your heads down,” I told the men, “it’s a trick.” But it wasn’t.
- White flag- The white flag is an internationally recognized protective sign of truce request for negotiation
- No man’s land- disputed ground between the front lines or trenches of two opposing armies.
- Fritz- (here) a name for a German soldier (Fritz is a common German name)
- Tommy- a common English name, used here to refer to British soldiers
- Parapet- a protective wall or earth defence along the top of a trench or other place of concealment for troops
He expresses his desire to tell Connie that it was the German soldiers who started it all (whatever he is about to tell that happened that day). He expresses his discomfort at revealing that it was the Germans (referred to as Fritz, a common German name) who started it. He recounts the sequence of events that led to their first use of a white flag. The white flag represents surrender, truce, and negotiation. It is waved to alert the other party to the intention and to instruct them not to shoot. Then he describes hearing someone from no man's land shout "Happy Christmas, Tommy!" "Happy Christmas!" Because "Tommy" is a common British name, they used it to refer to the English army.
When the British army realised what was going on, they wished the Germans would leave. They, too, thought that was it until they saw them on the border wearing grey greatcoats waving the white flag and shouting at the English army not to shoot. The army did not fire as the Germans emerged one by one. Jim told his soldiers to remain hidden because he suspected it was a trick. However, it was not a trick. The fact that Jim was instructing everyone shows that he was their leader or chief.
One of the Germans was waving a bottle above his head. “It is Christmas Day, Tommy. We have schnapps. We have sausage. We meet you? Yes?” By this time there were dozens of them walking towards us across no man’s land and not a rifle between them. Little Private Morris was the first up. “Come on, boys. What are we waiting for?” And then there was no stopping them. I was the officer. I should have stopped them there and then, I suppose, but the truth is that it never even occurred to me I should. All along their line and ours I could see men walking slowly towards one another, grey coats, khaki coats meeting in the middle. And I was one of them. I was part of this. In the middle of the war we were making peace.
- Schnapps- a German drink made from grain
One of their men (Germans) was swaying a bottle over his head, shouting that it was Christmas and they should celebrate. He invited the British soldiers over and told them of their special Schnapps and sausages. They soon noticed a large number of Germans walking and roaming in no man's land without their weapons. Private Morris was the first English soldier to emerge from the trench. Then everyone else followed, and as Jim put it, "there was no stopping them." Jim admits that he now feels he should have stopped them because he was their officer, but he also admits that it did not occur to him at the time to stop them from celebrating, from making peace. All he could see at the time were men in grey and khaki coats walking towards each other to meet in the centre of the land. He mentions how he was a part of this and how they were making peace while the two nations were at war.
You cannot imagine, dearest Connie, my feelings as I looked into the eyes of the Fritz officer, who approached me, hand outstretched. “Hans Wolf,” he said, gripping my hand warmly and holding it. “I am from Dusseldorf. I play the cello in the orchestra. Happy Christmas.” “Captain Jim Macpherson,” I replied. “And a Happy Christmas to you too. I’m a school teacher from Dorset, in the west of England.”
- Outstretched- extend
- Gripping – (here) holding
- Cello- a musical instrument like a large violin
He expresses how he felt in that moment in a way that goes far beyond what words or imagination can express. He was overcome as he met the eyes of the approaching German officer, who extended his hand and introduced himself. His name was Hans Wolf, and he was from the city of Dusseldorf. He told Jim he played cello in the orchestra and wished him a "Merry Christmas."
Jim returned his greeting and introduced himself by saying his full name, "Captain Jim Macpherson." He told the German officer that he was a schoolteacher in Dorset, a town in western England.
“Ah, Dorset,” he smiled. “I know this place. I know it very well.” We shared my rum ration and his excellent sausage. And we talked, Connie, how we talked. He spoke almost perfect English. But it turned out that he had never set foot in Dorset, never even been to England. He had learned all he knew of England from school, and from reading books in English. His favourite writer was Thomas Hardy, his favourite book Far from the Madding Crowd. So out there in no man’s land we talked of Bathsheba and Gabriel Oak and Sergeant Troy and Dorset. He had a wife and one son, born just six months ago. As I looked about me there were huddles of khaki and grey everywhere, all over no man’s land, smoking, laughing, talking, drinking, eating. Hans Wolf and I shared what was left of your wonderful Christmas cake, Connie. He thought the marzipan was the best he had ever tasted. I agreed. We agreed about everything, and he was my enemy. There never was a Christmas party like it, Connie.
- Ration- fixed amount of a commodity officially allowed to each person
- Bathsheba- (in the Bible) the mother of Solomon, also a character in the book, Far from the Madding Crowd
- Gabriel Oak- a character in the book Far from the Madding Crowd
- Sergeant Troy- a character in the book Far from the Madding Crowd
- Huddles- crowd together
- Marzipan- a sweet covering on a cake made from sugar, eggs and almonds
When Hans learned about Dorset, he was overjoyed. He claimed to know the area well, but it was later revealed that he had never visited this or any other place in England. He knew so much about England, and it was all from school or books he read in English. Jim mentioned how they shared his rum quota and Hans' sausages. The letter reflected Jim's enthusiasm for their conversation. He revealed that they discussed Thomas Hardy, Hans' favourite author, and his book, Far from the Madding Crowd. He told Connie about how they discussed the book's characters, such as Bathsheba, Gabriel Oak, and Sergeant Troy. They discussed each other's families. Hans was also married and had a six-month-old son. They even shared the leftover cake made by Jim's wife. Hans loved the marzipan and stated it to be the best he'd ever had. Jim shared the same sentiment. Despite being each other's enemy, Jim mentions how they both agreed on everything (German and Britain was at war at that time). He describes looking out over no man's land and seeing men dressed in grey and khaki having a good time. They were smoking, eating, laughing, drinking, and, most importantly, having a good time. Jim remarks on how unique the Christmas party was.
Then someone, I don’t know who, brought out a football. Greatcoats were dumped in piles to make goalposts, and the next thing we knew it was Tommy against Fritz out in the middle of no man’s land. Hans Wolf and I looked on and cheered, clapping our hands and stamping our feet, to keep out the cold as much as anything. There was a moment when I noticed our breaths mingling in the air between us. He saw it too and smiled. “Jim Macpherson,” he said after a while, “I think this is how we should resolve this war. A football match. No one dies in a football match. No children are orphaned. No wives become widows.”
- Goalposts- either of the two upright posts of a goal
- Mingling- mix or cause to mix together
Jim mentions that someone he doesn't know brought out a football, and the next thing they know, they're having a football game in the middle of no man's land. The goalposts were made from greatcoats. Hans and Jim did nothing but watch and cheer for the teams. They also clapped and stamped their feet to keep warm. Jim could even hear their breaths mingling in the air (it was during winter time). Hans noticed it as well, and they both smiled. After a while, Hans stated that this is exactly how the dispute should be resolved, rather than through war. No one dies in a football game, no children are orphaned, and no wives become widows.
“I’d prefer cricket,” I told him. “Then we Tommies could be sure of winning, probably.” We laughed at that, and together we watched the game. Sad to say, Connie, Fritz won, two goals to one. But as Hans Wolf generously said, our goal was wider than theirs, so it wasn’t quite fair.
Jim responds to Hans' suggestion of resolving it with football by saying that he would rather suggest Cricket because the "Tommies" would have a better chance of winning. They both laughed heartily. Unfortunately, Jim reports that Fritz won the game by a score of two goals to one. Hans, ever generous, remarked that it was because their goal was wider than Tommies', which was a little unfair.
The time came, and all too soon, when the game was finished, the schnapps and the rum and the sausage had long since run out, and we knew it was all over. I wished Hans well and told him I hoped he would see his family again soon, that the fighting would end and we could all go home.
They had run out of rum, Schnapps, and sausages. The game was completed. It all came to an end sooner than they expected. Jim expressed his best wishes to Hans and expressed his desire for things to end quickly and well so that they could all return home and reunite with their families.
“I think that is what every soldier wants, on both sides,” Hans Wolf said. “Take care, Jim Macpherson. I shall never forget this moment, nor you.” He saluted and walked away from me slowly, unwillingly, I felt. He turned to wave just once and then became one of the hundreds of grey-coated men drifting back towards their trenches.
Hans responded by saying that every soldier wishes to be reunited with their families and for things to end well. He then wishes Jim well and says that he and Jim will remember that day forever. Hans walked away slowly after saluting, turned back only once to wave. Jim had the impression that Hans was walking unwillingly, but he was soon one of the grey-coated men who returned to their trenches.
That night, back in our dugouts, we heard them singing a carol, and singing it quite beautifully. It was Stille Nacht, Silent Night. Our boys gave them a rousing chorus of While Shepherds Watched. We exchanged carols for a while and then we all fell silent. We had had our time of peace and goodwill, a time I will treasure as long as I live
- Dugout- a shelter for soldiers made by digging a hole in the ground and covering it.
- Rousing- exciting
They could hear the Germans singing a carol very melodiously as soon as they returned to their dugout shelters. They sang Stille Nacht, which translates to "Silent Night." The Tommies then sang While Shepherds Watched. They exchanged carols in this manner that night, and after a while, they were all silent. Jim refers to it as a "time of peace and goodwill," which he says he will cherish forever.
Dearest Connie, by Christmas time next year, this war will be nothing but a distant and terrible memory. I know from all that happened today how much both armies long for peace. We shall be together again soon, I’m sure of it. Your loving, Jim.
After telling her about the amazing Christmas night, Jim tells Connie that things will settle down soon and that the war will be a "distant memory" by next Christmas. He tells her that his interactions with them have shown him how much both sides want peace. He assures her that they will soon be reunited. He then signs off.
I folded the letter again and slipped it carefully back into its envelope. I kept awake all night. By morning I knew what I had to do. I drove into Bridport, just a few miles away. I asked a boy walking his dog where Copper Beeches was. House number 12 turned out to be nothing but a burned-out shell, the roof gaping, the windows boarded-up. I knocked at the house next door and asked if anyone knew the whereabouts of a Mrs Macpherson. Oh yes, said the old man in his slippers, he knew her well. A lovely old lady, he told me, a bit muddle-headed, but at her age she was entitled to be, wasn’t she? A hundred and one years old. She had been in the house when it caught fire. No one really knew how the fire had started, but it could well have been candles. She used candles rather than electricity, because she always thought electricity was too expensive. The fireman had got her out just in time. She was in a nursing home now, he told me, Burlington House, on the Dorchester road, on the other side of town.
- Burned out- destroyed by fire
- Boarded-up – covered with wooden boards
- Muddle-headed- confused
He neatly placed the letter back in the envelope after reading it, which he knew he shouldn't have read in the first place. The narrator couldn't sleep that night and knew exactly what he had to do the next morning. So he drove to Bridport, which was only a few miles away from his house. He asked directions to the Copper Beeches from a young boy walking his dog. He went there in search of the address mentioned in the letter, but house number 12 was completely destroyed by fire. Its roof was completely open, and the windows were boarded up for security. He knocked on the door of the house next door to inquire about Mrs Macpherson's whereabouts. The old man in the slippers was familiar with the lady. He called her a lovely lady who was often confused, but he blamed it on her age, as she was a hundred and one years old. Her house caught fire, and she was rescued by firefighters. The exact cause of the fire is unknown, but candles are suspected. Because she thought electricity was too expensive, the elderly lady relied heavily on candles. The old man told the narrator that she was now living in a nursing home called Burlington House on Dorchester Road, on the other side of town.
I found Burlington House Nursing Home easily enough. There were paper chains up in the hallway and a lighted Christmas tree stood in the corner with a lopsided angel on top. I said I was a friend come to visit Mrs Macpherson to bring her a Christmas present. I could see through into the dining room where everyone was wearing a paper hat and singing. The matron had a hat on too and seemed happy enough to see me. She even offered me a mince pie. She walked me along the corridor. “Mrs Macpherson is not in with the others,” she told me. “She’s rather confused today so we thought it best if she had a good rest. She has no family you know, no one visits. So I’m sure she’ll be only too pleased to see you.” She took me into a conservatory with wicker chairs and potted plants all around and left me.
- Lopsided- asymmetrical
- Matron- a woman in charge of domestic and medical arrangements at an institution
The narrator went to Burlington House Nursing Home, which he easily found. There were Christmas decorations everywhere; the hallway was richly decorated with paper chains, and at the end, there was a Christmas tree with an asymmetrical angel on top. He introduced himself as Mrs Macpherson's friend who had come to give her a Christmas gift. Everyone in the dining hall could see him. They were all wearing paper hats and singing. The matron also wore one of these hats. She was delighted to see him and even offered him a piece of mince pie. As she walks him down the corridor, she tells him that Mrs. Macpherson doesn't get many visitors because she doesn't have any. Mrs Macpherson, she says, would be overjoyed to see him. She mentions that she isn't celebrating today because she was confused and they thought it would be best for her to rest. She took him to a conservatory with wig chairs and potted plants.
The old lady was sitting in a wheelchair, her hands folded in her lap. She had silver white hair pinned into a wispy bun. She was gazing out at the garden. “Hello,” I said. She turned and looked up at me vacantly. “Happy Christmas, Connie,” I went on. “I found this. I think it’s yours.” As I was speaking her eyes never left my face. I opened the tin box and gave it to her. That was the moment her eyes lit up with recognition and her face became suffused with a sudden glow of happiness. I explained about the desk, about how I had found it, but I don’t think she was listening. For a while she said nothing, but stroked the letter tenderly with her fingertips.
- Lit up- became bright with excitement, happiness
- Suffused with- spread all over her face
- Wispy- (of hair) fine
- Tenderly- with gentleness, kindness and affection
Inside the conservatory, an elderly lady sat in a wheelchair, hands folded in her lap. Her white hair was neatly tied in a bun. She was sitting there, staring out at the garden, when he came in. The author went over to say hello. She turned to face him as he continued to wish her a "Merry Christmas" and handed her the letter. She kept her gaze fixed on his face as he spoke. It wasn't until he handed her the tin box that her eyes became radiant with joy. He explained the series of events that led him to the letter after handing her the tin box, but she didn't hear a word he said because she was so happy. She didn't say anything either. She simply sat there, holding the letter with gentleness, kindness, and affection.
Suddenly she reached out and took my hand. Her eyes were filled with tears. “You told me you’d come home by Christmas, dearest,” she said. “And here you are, the best Christmas present in the world. Come closer, Jim dear, sit down.”
Connie moved and took his hand as he stood there silently, her eyes watering. He had kept his promise to be there by Christmas, she said. She even described him as the "best Christmas present in the world." She then motioned for him to approach her and sit beside her. She addressed the author as "Jim."
I sat down beside her, and she kissed my cheek. “I read your letter so often Jim, every day. I wanted to hear your voice in my head. It always made me feel you were with me. And now you are. Now you’re back you can read it to me yourself. Would you do that for me, Jim dear? I just want to hear your voice again. I’d love that so much. And then perhaps we’ll have some tea. I’ve made you a nice Christmas cake, marzipan all around. I know how much you love marzipan.”
He followed her instructions. He approached her and sat down as she kissed him on the cheek. She told him that she read his letter every day (thinking the author was Jim) and it made her feel like she was there with him. She wished to hear his voice, but she then mentioned that now that he is with her, he can read the letter to her in his own voice. She asks if he would do so for her. She explains that she simply wants to hear his voice and would appreciate it if he could do so for her. She even suggested that they have tea afterward. She then stated that she had made his favourite Christmas cake out of Marzipan. She is well aware of his fondness for Marzipan.
Michael Morpurgo is a writer from England. Morpurgo was born in Saint Albans, Hertfordshire, England, on October 5, 1943. He was educated in London, Sussex, and Canterbury. He attended London University and did a degree in English and French. Morpurgo spent many years teaching children. Farms for City Children was founded by him and his wife in 1976. The farms gave city kids the opportunity to spend a week living and working on a farm. He has authored over 120 books. Morpurgo and Ted Hughes, a well-known English poet, were instrumental in establishing the position of children's laureate in the United Kingdom. They wanted to emphasise the significance of children's literature. From 2003 to 2005, Morpurgo was the Children's Laureate.