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The Best Christmas Present in the World, CBSE Class 8 English Honeydew Book Lesson 1 Explanation, Summary, Difficult words

By Ruchika Gupta

 

The Best Christmas Present in the World Class 8 English Honeydew Book Lesson 1 - Detailed explanation of the lesson along with the meanings of difficult words. Also, the explanation is followed by a Summary of the lesson. All the exercises and Question and Answers given at the back of the lesson have been covered.

Class 8 English (Honeydew Book) Chapter 1 - The Best Christmas Present in the World

By Michael Morpurgo

 

the best christmas present in the world

 

The Best Christmas Present in the World- Introduction

The lesson “The Best Christmas Present in the World” recites a Christmas story in the midst of a war. It reflects upon the longing of the soldiers to reunite with their families. On the other hand, it also throws light upon the longing of the families of these soldiers. One such wife, Connie, a hundred and one years old lady whose husband was a soldier in the British army, misunderstood her visitor to be her husband Jim and called the so-called reunion “The Best Christmas Present in the World”.

 

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The Best Christmas Present in the World- Summary

The story “The Best Christmas Present in the World” begins with the author making a decision about buying an old roll-top desk which is in a bad-condition. He had longed for one since long and he was also confident that he could restore it. Thus, he takes the desk home and as he starts working on it on the Eve of Christmas, he finds a secret drawer that carried a letter addressed to some woman named Connie from her husband Jim. It said that it was his last letter and was dated December 26, 1914. It was written at the time of the war between Germany and Britain. It enlisted the series of events that followed on the day of Christmas that year 1914 or “a wonderful thing that happened”, in the words of Jim. He wrote about how the two armies that came together to celebrate the spirit of Christmas despite belonging to enemy nations. They forgot about their differences for a while and realised that they had much in common. They shared schnapps, sausages and rum. The two officers, Jim and Hans Wolf developed a good bond over a chit-chat. They both were of the view that countries should negotiate peacefully and resolve conflicts by playing football or cricket. The soldiers played football that day and when all their supply of food and drinks was finished, they knew it was time to return back to their own trenches. That night, they exchanged Christmas carols. As Jim tells Connie about the day in his letter, he assures Connie of their reunion next Christmas. The author, who read this letter thought he should reach out to Connie. He finds the address mentioned on the envelope and discovers that the house had been burnt and Connie, a hundred and one years old lady, now lived in a Nursing home. He visits the Nursing home and hands over the letter to Connie, who is immensely overjoyed on reading the letter. She misunderstands the author to be her husband Jim and calls him “The Best Christmas present in the World.”

The Best Christmas Present in the World- Lesson and Explanation

I spotted it in a junk shop in Bridport, a roll-top desk. The man said it was 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 opens with the narrator present in a second-hand goods shop. He had been longing for a roll-top desk since a while but couldn’t get his hands on one because they were too expensive. Finally, he saw one at the junk shop in Bridport. The seller told him that it belonged to the days of the early nineteenth century and was made of oak. Old as it was, it was in poor shape; the roll top was not in single piece, one of its legs was unskillfully repaired and it had marks on one of its sides as if it were burnt down. Because of it being old and the condition in which it was in it was available for a very cheap price. The narrator wanted to get it so badly that he believed he could restore it even though it was less likely. Thus, he bought it by paying the man in the shop and took it home. He took it to his workroom which was at the back of his garage and began working on it on the Eve of Christmas.

jim

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 a very bad condition and it appeared to him that water and fire had clearly done enough damage. The fact that all the decorative wood or veneer was coming out made it more likely that it could be water damage. He removed the roll-top entirely and started taking out the drawers. While all the drawers came out, the last one was stuck. He tried pulling it gently but when it didn’t work, he had to use extreme force to take it out. He punched the drawer with the side of his fist only to find a space underneath it when it opened. It was a secret drawer with a black tin like box inside of it. Fixated on its top side, there was a letter on which it was written “Jim’s last letter, received January 25, 1915. To be buried with me when the time comes.” in shaky handwriting. He knew in his heart that it was wrong for him to open the box, but curiosity somehow got the better of him, the way it generally 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”.

He found an envelope inside the tin box when he opened it. There was an address written on it. It read: “Mrs Jim Macpherson, 12 Copper Beeches, Bridport, Dorset.” The narrator took out the letter, unfolded it and began reading. It was written on December 26, 1914 as was mentioned on top of it with a pencil.

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 begins with an informal and friendly salutation to someone named Connie. Jim reveals that he is writing in a very happy mood and he is about to share the details of something great that he had experienced. He tells her about the day when all of them (the army) were in their positions in trenches the day before. It was Christmas day. The weather was cool and noiseless, which made the morning, as he described, one of the beautiful mornings he had experienced. There was frost all around, just like it should be on a 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 how much he wants to tell Connie that it was the German soldiers who began it (whatever he is about to tell that happened that day). He conveys how he is feeling uncomfortable to reveal that it was the Germans (referred to as Fritz, a common german name) who started it. He lists the series of events of how they first waved a white flag. White flag is a symbol for surrender, truce and negotiation. It is waved in order to make the other party aware of the intention and to indicate to them to not shoot. Then he tells how they heard someone from the no man’s land shout “Happy Christmas, Tommy! Happy Christmas!”. They used “Tommy” to refer to the English army as it is a common British name.
Once the British army understood what was happening, they wished the Germans back. They also thought that, that was it but only then, they could see them on the no-man’s land wearing grey greatcoats waving the white flag and shouting, telling the English army not to shoot. The army didn’t shoot while one by one, the Germans came out. Jim instructed his soldiers to stay hidden as he suspected it to be some kind of trick. But actually, it was not a trick. The fact that Jim was instructing everyone shows that he was their chief or head.


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 at the no man’s land while shouting that it’s Christmas and they should celebrate. He invited the British soldiers over and told them that they have their special Schnapps and sausages as well. In no time, they could see a lot of Germans walking and roaming on the no man’s land without their weapons. The first one to get out of the trench from the English army was little Private Morris. Next, everyone followed and in the words of Jim, “there was no stopping them”. Jim mentions how he now feels that he should have stopped them as he was their officer but he also confesses that in that moment, it did not even occur to him to stop them from celebrating, from making peace. At that moment, all he could see were men in grey and khaki coats walking towards each other to meet in the centre of the land. He mentions that even he was a part of this and how they were making peace in the midst of a war between the two nations.

 

caption jim macpherson

 

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 is far beyond that can be expressed in words or imagined. He was overwhelmed as he looked straight in the eyes of the approaching German officer who extended his hand and introduced himself. His name was Hans Wolf and he belonged to a place named Dusseldorf. He told Jim that he played Cello at the orchestra and then wished him “Happy Christmas”.
Jim wished him back and introduced himself too by telling his full name, “Captain Jim Macpherson”. He told the German officer that he was a school teacher in Dorset, which is in the west of 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

Hans expressed delightfulness upon hearing about Dorset. He revealed that he knows the place quite well but it turned out that he had never visited this place or any other in England. He knew so much about England and all from school or English books that he read. Jim mentioned how they shared his quota of rum and Hans’ sausages. Jim’s excitement about their conversation was clear from the letter. He revealed that they talked about Hans’ favourite author, Thomas Hardy and his book, Far from the Madding Crowd. He told Connie how they talked about the characters of the book like Bathsheba, Gabriel Oak and Sergeant Troy. They talked about each other’s families. Hans too, was married with a six-month old son. They even shared the leftover cake that Jim’s wife had made. Hans loved the marzipan and expressed it was the best he ever had. Jim was of the same opinion. Jim mentions how they both agreed on everything despite being each other’s enemy (German and Britain was at war at that time). He tells how he looked at the no man’s land and could see men in grey and khaki enjoying themselves. They were smoking, eating, laughing, drinking and most of all, celebrating. Jim mentions how it was a very unique Christmas party.

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, who he does not know, brought out a football and next they know, they were having a football match in the midst of the no man’s land. They used greatcoats to make the goalposts. Hans and Jim only watched and cheered for the teams. They clapped and stamped their feets to keep themselves warm also. Jim could even notice their breaths mixing up in the air (it was during winter time). Hans noticed it too and they both smiled at each other. After a while, Hans said that this is exactly how the dispute should be resolved and not by war. In a football match, no one loses their life, 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 replies to Hans’ idea of resolving it with football by saying that he would rather suggest Cricket because then there would be more chances of the “Tommies” winning. They both had a good laugh.
Sadly, Jim informs that Fritz won the game by two goals to one. Hans, generous as he was, remarked that it was because their goal was wider than that of Tommies which was a bit 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 ran out of rum, Schnapps and the sausages. The game was finished. Sooner than they realised, it all came to an end. Jim gave Hans his best wishes and conveyed how he hoped for things to end soon and end well so that they could all go 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 replied by saying that reuniting with their families and for things to end well, is something that every soldier wants. He then wishes Jim well and expresses that he shall always remember that day and so shall Jim. Hans went away after saluting in a slow pace and turned back only once to wave. Jim felt as if Hans was walking unwillingly but soon, he was one of the grey-coated men who moved back 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.

 

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Rousing- exciting

As soon as they went back to their dugout shelters, they could hear the Germans singing a carol very melodiously. They sang Stille Nacht or the Silent Night. Then the Tommies sang While Shepherds Watched. Just like this, they exchanged carols that night and after a while, they were all silent. Jim calls it the “time of peace and goodwill” and says how he will cherish it 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 soon and by next Christmas, the war would just be a “distant memory”. He tells her that his experience with them has made him realise how both the sides crave for peace. He assures her that they will be reunited soon. 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

After reading the letter, which he knew he should not have read in the first place, he placed it back neatly in the envelope. The narrator could not sleep that night and the next morning, he knew exactly what he had to do. So, he drove to Bridport which was just a few miles away from his place of residence. He asked a little boy who was walking his dog for directions to the Copper Beeches. He went there looking for the address mentioned on the letter; but house number 12 was all burned down. Its roof was all open and the windows were covered with boards for security. To inquire about the whereabouts of Mrs Macpherson, he knocked at the house next door. The old man in the slippers knew the lady personally. He called her a lovely lady who stayed a bit confused most of the time, but he blamed it on her age, for she was a hundred and one years old. Her house caught fire and she was saved by the firemen. The actual cause of the fire is not known but people suspect it to be candles. The old lady used a lot of candles as she thought electricity was too expensive. The old man told the narrator that she now lived in a Nursing home, named Burlington House, on Dorchester road , which is on the other side of the 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 found quite easily. There were Christmas decorations all over; the hallway was decorated with paper chains all over and at the end, there was a Christmas tree with an asymmetrical angel on the top. He introduced himself as a friend of Mrs Macpherson who had come to give her a Christmas gift. He could see everyone at the dining hall. They were all singing and wore paper hats. The matron wore one such hat too. She was happy to see the narrator and even offered him a piece of mince pie. As she walks him through the corridor, she tells that Mrs Macpherson does not get visitors often as she has no family. According to her, Mrs Macpherson would be delighted to see him. She mentions that she is not celebrating today as she was a bit confused, so they thought it would be better for her to rest. She took him to a conservatory which had chairs made of wigs and potted plants.

 

 

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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, sat an old lady in a wheelchair with her hands folded in her lap. Her white hair was tied in a neat bun. As she sat there, she was staring at the garden when he entered. The author went and said “hello”. She turned her attention towards him as he continued wishing her “Happy Christmas” and gave her the letter. She constantly looked at his face while he spoke. It was only when he handed her the tin box that her eyes became radiant due to immense happiness. After handing the tin box over to her, he explained the series of events that led him to the letter but she didn’t listen to a word he said as she was filled with so much happiness. Nor did she say a word. She just sat there holding the letter in her hands with gentleness, kindness and affection.

connie

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.”

As he stood there silently, Connie moved and took his hand while her eyes were watery. She said that he had fulfilled his promise of being there by Christmas. She even said that he is the “best Christmas present in the world”. She then asked him to come near her and sit beside her. She called the author “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 did as she said. He went near her and sat down while she kissed him on his cheek. She told him how she read his letter daily (considering the author to be Jim) and it made her feel like she was with him. She longed to hear his voice but then she mentioned, now that he is here with her, he can read out the letter to her in his voice. She asks if he would do that for her. She explains that she just wants to hear his voice badly and if he could do that for her, she would love that. She suggested that they can even have tea afterwards. She then told him that she even made his favourite Christmas cake with Marzipan. She is well aware of how he loved Marzipan.

 

The Best Christmas Present in the World- Question and Answers

 

1. What did the author find in a junk shop?

A. In the junk shop,the author found a nineteenth century roll-top desk made of oak.  Old as it was, it was in a poor shape; the roll top was not in single piece, one of its legs was unskillfully repaired and it had marks on one of its sides as if it were burnt down.

2. What did he find in a secret drawer? Who do you think had put it in there?

A. The author discovered a black coloured tin box inside the secret drawer. Fixated on its top side, there was a letter on which it was written “Jim’s last letter, received January 25, 1915. To be buried with me when the time comes.” in shaky handwriting.
It was meant for Jim’s wife, Mrs Macpherson. Thus, she must have been the one to keep it there safely.

3. Who had written the letter, to whom, and when?

A. Jim Macpherson, the officer of the British army had written the letter to his wife, who he refers to as Connie, with love.The letter is dated December 26, 1914; after the best Christmas celebration they had with the German army.

4. Why was the letter written — what was the wonderful thing that had happened?

A. The letter was written by Jim to share “the wonderful thing” that had happened a day before. While the English army was behind their trenches against the German army, they were shown the white flag by the Germans, symbolising a truce. The German men then came to the no man’s land, hereby inviting the Tommies or English men to celebrate Christmas with them over Schnapps and sausages. Both the armies celebrated Christmas and made peace in the midst of war, even if it was for a day. Jim met the officer of the German army, Hans Wolf and they spent a lot of time talking about a lot of things. Even though they were enemies, they agreed upon almost everything.
Both the sides played football and enjoyed rum, schnapps and sausages. They spent the day laughing, drinking, eating and enjoying with each other. They finally departed to their ways after the football match and that night, they even exchanged carols.

5. What jobs did Hans Wolf and Jim Macpherson have when they were not soldiers?

A. When Hans Wolf and Jim Macpherson were not serving their respective armies, they had other jobs that kept them occupied. Hans Wolf, officer of the German army played cello in an orchestra and Jim Macpherson, officer of the British army taught at a school in Dorset, in the West of England.
Had Hans Wolf ever been to Dorset? Why did he say he knew it?
No, Hans Wolf had never been to Dorset, or for that matter, any part of England. Even then, he said he knew quite well about the place because he learned a lot about England in school and he liked reading English books which gave him all the knowledge he needed to know.

6. Do you think Jim Macpherson came back from the war? How do you know this?

A. No, Jim Macpherson did not come back from the war. The tin box that the narrator found had “Jim’s last letter” written on it which means he wrote no letter after this one.
Also factually, the letter was written in the early years of World War I in which the Germans emerged victorious, which clearly hints at the defeat of the British army.

7. Why did the author go to Bridport?

A. The author could not sleep after reading the letter. So, the next morning he decided to go to Bridport which was just a few miles away from where he lived. He had gone there to find Mrs Macpherson at the address mentioned on the envelope so that he could give her the letter.

8. How old was Mrs Macpherson now? Where was she?

A. Mrs Macpherson was now a hundred and one years old. Her house in Bridport burned down years ago and now she was in a Nursing home named Burlington House on the Dorchester road, which is on the other side of the town.

9. Who did Connie Macpherson think her visitor was?

A. Connie Macpherson thought the visitor was her husband Jim Macpherson.

10. Which sentence in the text shows that the visitor did not try to hide his identity?

A. The lines that show that the visitor did not try to hide his identity are, “I explained about the desk, about how I had found it, but I don't think she was listening.”

11. For how long do you think Connie had kept Jim’s letter? Give reasons for your answer.

A. Connie had kept the letter with her for a very long time. No clear time had been mentioned but by the series of events mentioned in the story, we can say she possessed it until her house caught fire. This is because the author found it in the partially-burnt roll-top desk that he bought from the junk shop. It was kept in a secret drawer in a tin box that said, “to be buried with me”. Thus, Connie kept the letter safe with her and intended to do so till eternity. It was the fire that separated her from that letter.

12. Why do you think the desk had been sold, and when?

A. The desk must have been sold after it got burned partially in the house fire. Connie was taken to a Nursing home after that. All the furniture along with that desk must have been sold after that.

13. Why do Jim and Hans think that games or sports are good ways of resolving conflicts? Do you agree?

A. Jim and Hans are of the opinion that if countries could resolve their conflicts by playing football or cricket, no lives would be sacrificed, no parent would lose their son, no children would be orphaned and no wives would be left widowed. Yes, I agree with their opinion. Wars only cause destruction. A nation that emerges victorious from the war, must actually not take it as a reason to celebrate, as it is only a result of massive bloodshed and sacrifice. Nations must refrain from declaring war-like situations and solve the conflicts with negotiations, peacefully.

14. Do you think the soldiers of the two armies are like each other, or different from each other? Find evidence from the story to support your answer.

A. The soldiers from the two armies, British and German are quite similar to each other. They are soldiers from different countries, but in reality are simple men who want to negotiate peacefully so that they can reunite with their families as soon as possible. It is evident from these lines in the story, “ 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. “I think that is what every soldier wants, on both sides,” Hans Wolf said.”
Also, the line “We agreed about everything, and he was my enemy.” suggests that Jim and Hans got along with each other quite well as they made peace amidst an ongoing war.

15. Mention the various ways in which the British and the German soldiers become friends and find things in common at Christmas.

A. On Christmas Day, the Fritz (German soldiers) came out on no man’s land and invited the Tommies (British army) to celebrate the day over Schnapps and sausages. The celebrations began when the Tommies in Khaki joined them. While men in grey and Khaki met each other, the officers of the two armies also introduced themselves to each other. They talked over a variety of things like Dorset, Hans’ favourite writer and book and even the characters from the book. As they talked, they found a lot of things in common between them, as Jim said, “We agreed about everything, and he was my enemy. ” All of them shared each other’s quota of rum, schnapps and sausage.
All men were seen laughing, eating, drinking, talking and enjoying themselves. They even played a football match. In the end, all they wished for each other was to reunite with their families and children and for things to end peacefully.

16. What is Connie’s Christmas present? Why is it “the best Christmas present in the world”?

A. As the author decided to return Jim’s letter to his wife Connie, he went to meet her at the Nursing Home to hand it over to her personally. He gave the letter to Connie and explained to her how he found it but she didn’t listen to a word of what he said.  So, she misunderstood the author to be Jim and became joyful. She considered it her Christmas present and according to her, it was “the best Christmas present in the whole world” as she had been waiting for Jim since long and she had longed to hear his voice every day. Her eyes were filled with tears as she sat with her Christmas present.

17. Do you think the title of this story is suitable for it? Can you think of any other title(s)?

A. The lesson revolves around the day of Christmas. The letter that Jim worte is all about how the two armies came together to celebrate the spirit of Christmas despite being enemies in war. Moreover, in that letter, he assures Connie to be there with her next Christmas.
Apart from this, the author gives back the letter to Connie on Christmas day and Connie, who had been longing to see and hear from Jim, considers the author to be her husband and the best ever Christmas present. Thus, the title, “The Best Christmas Present in the World” is apt.
The other titles that would be suitable for the story are, “The Christmas Miracle”, “The spirit of Christmas” or “The Christmas Messenger”.

The Best Christmas Present in the World- Grammar Exercises

 

(i) Read the passage below and underline the verbs in the past tense.

A man got on the train and sat down. The compartment was empty except for one lady. She took her gloves off. A few hours later the police arrested the man. They held him for 24 hours and then freed him.

Solution-

A man got on the train and sat down. The compartment was empty except for one lady. She took her gloves off. A few hours later the police arrested the man. They held him for 24 hours and then freed him.

(ii) Fill in the blanks using the correct form of the verbs in brackets.

My little sister is very naughty. When she __________ (come) back from school yesterday, she had __________ (tear) her dress. We __________ (ask) her how it had __________ (happen). She __________ (say) she __________ __________ (have, quarrel) with a boy. She __________ __________ (have, beat) him in a race and he __________ __________ (have, try) to push her. She __________ __________ (have, tell) the teacher and so he __________ __________ (have, chase) her, and she __________ __________ (have, fall) down and __________ __________ (have, tear) her dress.

Solution-

My little sister is very naughty. When she came back from school yesterday, she had torn her dress. We asked her how it had happened. She said she had quarrelled with a boy. She had beaten him in a race and he had tried to push her. She had told the teacher and so he had chased her, and she had fallen down and had torn her dress.

(iii) Underline the verbs and arrange them in two columns, Past and Earlier past.

(a) My friends set out to see the caves in the next town, but I stayed at home, because I had seen them already.
(b) When they arrived at the station, their train had left. They came back home, but by that time I had gone out to see a movie!
(c) So they sat outside and ate the lunch I had packed for them.
(d) By the time I returned, they had fallen asleep!

Solution-

(a) My friends set out to see the caves in the next town, but I stayed at home, because I had seen them already.
(b) When they arrived at the station, their train had left. They came back home, but by that time I had gone out to see a movie!
(c) So they sat outside and ate the lunch I had packed for them.
(d) By the time I returned, they had fallen asleep!

Past

Earlier Past

Set out

Had seen

stayed

Had left

arrived

Had gone out

Came back

Had packed

sat

Had fallen asleep

ate

 

returned

 

iv ) Find these phrasal verbs in the story.

Burn out

Light up

Look on

Run out

Keep out

Write down the sentences in which they occur. Consult a dictionary and write down the meaning that you think matches the meaning of the phrasal verb in the sentence.

Solution-

  1. Burn out

Meaning- be or cause to be destroyed by fire
House number 12 turned out to be nothing but a burned-out shell, the roof gaping, the windows boarded-up.

  1. Light up

Meaning- (of a person’s face or eyes) suddenly become animated with liveness or joy
That was the moment her eyes lit up with recognition and her face became suffused with a sudden glow of happiness.

  1. Look on

Meaning- watch without getting involved
Hans Wolf and I looked on and cheered, clapping our hands and stamping our feet, to keep out the cold as much as anything.

  1. Run out

Meaning- (of a supply of something) be used up
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.

  1. Keep out

Meaning- remain or cause someone or something to remain outside
Hans Wolf and I looked on and cheered, clapping our hands and stamping our feet, to keep out the cold as much as anything.

v) The table below contains a list of nouns and some adjectives. Use as many adjectives as you can to describe each noun. You might come up with some funny descriptions!

 

Nouns

Adjectives

Elephant

circular, striped, enormous, multicoloured,
round, cheerful, wild, blue, red, chubby, large, medium-sized, cold

Face

Building

Water

Solution-


Nouns

Adjectives

Elephant

Giant, gigantic, enormous, docile, wild, furious, wise, huge, old, extinct, stubborn, circular, striped, enormous, multicoloured

Face

Pale, narrow, broad, round, expressionless, happy, troubled, lean, red, wild, blue, medium-sized, cold

Building

Tall, shabby, older, narrower, coloured, residential, industrial, unfinished, roofed, filthy

Water

Clean, fresh, refreshing, hot, cold, thunderous, quenching, renewable, natural, sparkling

 

 

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