The Advent Calendar of Literature: Day 22

Our last few posts have concerned the Christmas presents that a couple of important American writers received from friends or family: specifically, the odd presents William Faulkner insisted on being given, and the rather Pepyssplendid and life-changing present Harper Lee received.

The earliest known use of the phrase ‘Christmas present’ is rather older than either Faulkner or Lee, of course. According to the Oxford English Dictionary it was first recorded in a 1663 entry in the diary of Samuel Pepys. Pepys began his diary in January 1660 and continued it until 1669, when failing eyesight put an end to his daily jottings.

Pepys recorded in February of 1663: ‘I was told that my Lady Castlemaine had all the King’s Christmas presents made him by the Peeres given to her.’ The context of this entry is revealing: it was written only three years after the Restoration of the monarchy, whereby Charles II became king and Christmas could once again be celebrated openly and publicly (Parliament, during the Interregnum, had famously prohibited many Christmas celebrations during the 1640s and 1650s).

Image: Samuel Pepys by John Hayls, 1666, Wikimedia Commons.