J.B. Priestley’s finest writings reflect on the Bradford of his childhood. His experiences of Christmas encapsulate what he valued about this society: hospitality, conviviality, generosity, connecting with people, music everywhere. The qualities of a Dickensian Christmas, and of course Priestley admired Dickens greatly.
Priestley’s relationship with this past was complicated though. His boyhood Bradford was lost to him personally: his friends all died on the Somme, and after the Great War he never lived in the city again. In later life he mourned the loss of the values of the society he remembered: he criticised consumer society “admass”, bureaucracy, and growing social isolation.
In the grey austerity of 1946, Priestley used this remembered past and his complicated feelings about it to create his masterpiece Bright Day. Here I quote from the section introducing his character’s first Bradford Christmas. It sums up Priestley’s relationship with Christmas Past.
“Christmas arrived at the proper time, late on the twenty-fourth of December, but once it did arrive then it really was Christmas – and often with snow too. Brass bands played and choirs sang in the streets; you went not to one friend;s house but to a dozen; acres of rich pound cake and mince-pies were washed down by cataracts of old beer and port, whisky and rum; the air was fragrant and thick with cigar smoke, as if the very mill chimneys had taken to puffing them; whole warehouses of presents were exchanged; every interior looked like a vast Flemish still-life of turkeys, geese, hams, puddings, candied fruit, dark purple bottles, figs, dates, chocolates, holly, and coloured or gilded paper hats.”
Want to read more? Bright Day is in print, from Great Northern, or plentiful in various editions second hand.