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Home for the Holidays…With a Good Book

Home for the Holidays is one of the warmest images of Christmas. But “quarantined at home for the holidays” isn’t among them.

But here we are in Christmas 2020.

However, there’s a bright side to all the cookies we won’t be making, all the parties we won’t be going to, all the entertaining we won’t be doing, and — perhaps the silver lining on this spiky spherical cloud — all the fights over politics we won’t be having.

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Another bright side is that we have time to spend doing things just for ourselves. And for readers, that means uninterrupted hours with books. Especially Christmas stories.

We all know the favorites — Christmas Carol, The Gift of the Magi, How the Grinch Stole Christmas — but there is a wealth of lesser-known Christmas literature that is well worth reading.

One of my favorites is Zona Gale’s (1874 – 1938) Christmas: A Story, which I discovered three years ago while browsing for Christmas stories on the free audiobook service, Librivox. Since then, this beautifully written jewel has joined A Christmas Carol as part of my personal Christmas ritual.

The story takes place in Old Trail Town where the shutdown of its only employer causes residents to cancel Christmas. Christmas comes all the same to a disappointed, lonely woman and to the whole town; not by the agency of supernatural events but through ordinary people doing ordinary things.

Gale’s writing recalls Louisa May Alcott’s apparent simplicity that conveys sentiment without sentimentality, as well as Alcott’s mastery of narrative.

Speaking of Alcott, A Merry Christmas: And Other Christmas Stories is a collection of Christmas stories about Christmas in the U.S. in the mid-19th century.

Each story opens an intimate window into some special Christmas story; including one into a Civil War hospital where too few turkeys, too few mince pies and too much squash threatens to disappoint wounded and homesick soldiers.

During the 1920s and 1930s, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a series of letters to his children from the British equivalent of Santa Claus, Father Christmas. Collected in Letters from Father Christmas, with wonderful illustrations by Tolkien.

The letters chronicle the Christmas-by-Christmas doings at the surprisingly British Christmas household; including those of the spelling-challenged North Polar Bear and Mr. Bear’s disputes with the elves. Tolkien also includes an entire North Pole runic alphabet. There’s an excellent audio recording available on Hoopla by noted actor Derek Jacoby.

If you are fascinated by history, William Sandys (1792 – 1874) Christmastide: Its History, Festivities and Carols, With Their Music, is a history of British Christmas traditions, stories and music going back to Anglo-Saxon times. This a book for dipping into at random, rather than an end-to-end read.

The collection includes many carols that aren’t familiar today — the perfect antidote to the overfamiliar carols that are more likely to bring to mind department stores than sacred tradition.

Finally, although The Nutcracker is more than familiar via Tchaikovsky’s ballet, the original Nutcracker and The Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffman (1776 – 1822) isn’t so familiar.

The stories that are the context for the ballet episodes are told to Marie (“Clara” in the ballet) by her Uncle Drosselmeyer. It’s the story of Princess Pirlipat and Madam Mouserinks, and the quest to break the enchantment that has turned first the princess and then Drosselmeyer’s nephew into nutcrackers. There’s a beautiful edition illustrated by Genadii Spirin (ISBN-10:1556705301).

Finally, humor is also in order even on a quarantine Christmas (Quarantmas?). Treat yourself with David Sedaris’ collection Holidays on Ice. The collection includes Santa Land Diaries, the story of Sedaris’ brief career as a Macy’s Christmas elf.

The collection includes Season’s Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!, chronicling the disintegration of the Dunbar family by Mrs. Dunbar in the relentless cheery tone of annual Christmas letters. It will be loved by the Grinch-y the world over.

For last year’s literary offering, visit www.svvoice.com/welcome-literary-yuletide.

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