I’ve been running around over the past few weeks and chasing the dream of creating a memorable Christmas for my family and I have to admit that I’ve lost the thread of what’s important at this time of year. Meals have been planned, presents have been bought, chocolate has been purchased and wrapping paper, tape and ribbons have been assembled, all like an army of willing soldiers ready to leap into seasonal battle. At this time of year, I have to admit that a part of me is always shouting “The Holidays are upon us – run for your lives!”
What better time to lean into a good book?
As children, this is about the time of year when my father would pull out his favourite Christmas story and sit in the old fat armchair that sat in a corner of the living room under a tall lamp. He would nestle my sister and I into the safe circle of his arms and read aloud to us from his favourite Christmas story, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas:
“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep…”
The sound of Dad’s voice would roll over us, washing away the stresses of our little days, replacing them with the comfort of words compressed lovingly together by a master craftsmen. There was a lullaby quality to Dylan Thomas’s writing and, even today, any time I hear his name or see one of his books, a part of me relaxes into my memories of Christmases past.
I also have sterling memories of watching the classic Charles Dickes story, A Christmas Carol, on TV – the old, scary, black and white version from the 1930s, not one of the more cheerful, sanitized versions that came later. The book is even more of a feast for lovers of language:
“I have always thought of Christmastime, when it has come round… as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
How many other wonderful stories were written to commemorate this Christian holiday? They are legion! Here are some of my other favourites:
- The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
- The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore
- The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman
- The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
- The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter
I regret that my upbringing excluded the wealth of literary treasures that come from other religious traditions, but if you know of other festival stories that are beautiful to read, please put me onto them!
These are busy days and it’s easy to get trapped in the froth that goes along with upholding the mirage of a perfect holiday. But it’s also a perfect time to dive into a book and enjoy a story created by someone in whose heart the true timbre of the season resonated so deeply that it found expression in the written word.
Some closing words from Dylan Thomas:
“Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steadily falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.”