Christmas is a time for many of our favorite stories. And when you say “Christmas story,” the next thought for readers is Charles Dickens’ (1812 – 1870) Christmas Carol.
Dickens was very much the “man who invented Christmas” as we know it today with his story of Scrooge and the three ghosts. So as you re-read that favorite, complement it with Les Standiford’s, The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits.
It isn’t only Christmas Carol that cements Dickens’ place in the canon of Christmas. He wrote many stories and essays about Christmas. One essay in particular, What Christmas is As We Grow Older, captures just what it is that Christmas — and all the world’s holidays celebrating the mystery of light out of darkness — make eternally present:
“Welcome, old aspirations, glittering creatures of an ardent fancy, to your shelter underneath the holly! We know you, and have not outlived you yet. Welcome, old projects and old loves, however fleeting, to your nooks among the steadier lights that burn around us. Welcome, all that was ever real to our hearts; and for the earnestness that made you real, thanks to Heaven!”
Over the years I’ve discovered other tributes to the holiday of “all that was ever real to our hearts.” Here are some I recommend to lovers of holiday sentiment.
One of the loveliest Christmas tales I’ve found is Zona Gale’s (1874 – 1938) Christmas: A Story. A native of Wisconsin, Gale was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play Miss Lulu Bett in 1921. Gale’s writing is graceful and touching without being flowery or maudlin.
Christmas: A Story takes place in Old Trail Town where the shutdown of its only employer causes residents to cancel Christmas. But Christmas comes all the same, in the form of a child who comes to Mary Chavah, who has learned from hard experience not to expect much from life, and who, in making a home for her motherless nephew, brings Christmas to the whole town.
Another Christmas story of the American prairie is Cyrus Townsend Brady’s (1861 – 1920) A Christmas When The West Was Young. The bittersweet story is about a heartsick couple struggling to make it through the prairie winter. Like Gale’s story, the harshness of prairie life is a character in the story, and like Gale’s story, a child brings Christmas when they least expect it.
Anthony Trollope’s (1815 -1882) novella Christmas at Thompson Hall is a plum pudding of a Victorian Christmas tale, with an element of farce, but all ends well even if — horrors! — that includes a married lady finding herself in a strange man’s hotel bedroom. It’s published in a collection with seven other charming Christmas stories by Trollope.
Mystery, too, finds a home at Christmas, and Louisa May Alcott’s (1832 – 1888) The Abbot’s Ghost or Maurice Traherne’s Temptation by puts a pleasant shiver in the holiday.
As Little Women’s devoted fans know, Jo March (Alcott’s alter ego) wrote romantic plays and sensation stories, which Alcott wrote in real life. The Abbot’s Ghost is an example of the Victorian sensation story crafted by a master of narrative and dialog.
As a final bonbon for the season, treat yourself to Robert Benchley’s (1869 – 1945) parody of Charles Dickens, titled Christmas Afternoon and which begins:
“What an afternoon! There never was such an afternoon since the world began…In the first place there was the ennui, and such ennui as it was! A heavy, overpowering ennui…a dragging devitalizing ennui which carried with it a retinue of yawns, snarls and thinly veiled insults, and which ended in ruptures in the clan spirit serious enough to last throughout the glad new year.”
Benchley’s piece is in his collection “Of All Things” and in Dwight McDonald’s “Parodies: An Anthology from Chaucer to Beerbohm — and After.”
“Parodies” also includes H.L. Mencken’s Declaration of Independence in American, and Ring Lardner’s theater of the absurd parody, I Gaspiri (The Upholsterers). Give it to yourself as a gift this Christmas.
Many of these works are available for free at Gutenberg.org, and at very low cost on Kindle and Nook. Many are available as free audio books at Librivox.org.
And of course, they can always be found at a public library near you.