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Tis the Season. No, Really!

November 5, 2009

It’s that time of year. I’m reading Christmas books. In fact, I was reading them before Halloween! (And you thought the stores got Yuletide cheer going early?)

I resisted the first book. Not because of any flaw in the story. But because it was a Christmas story. In October! To get myself in a more festive mood, I dug out the Christmas music. (As some of you may know, I have a rather terrifying extensive collection.) A little dose of Dr. John’s “Silent Night” and some Stan Kenton did the trick. I am ready to deck the halls!

Or at least read about things like tree-trimming, mistletoe, sledding, Santa and the Nativity.

Now– when I’m grumpy at these Christmas books, it’s on the story’s merit, not my own personal rebellion at being dragged kicking and screaming into the season.

A plea to authors everywhere. And, for that matter, filmmakers and musicians.

“Christmas book” does not need to be confused with “so sweetly sentimental I’m getting a toothache.”

“Holiday cheer?” Not a synonym for “crank the romance and the cuteness all the way to eleven.”

That’s lazy cliche, not holiday spirit!

The books that do Christmas spirit right focus on telling a story, with strong characters and great prose— that just happens to be at Christmas.  Warm descriptions of holiday traditions? Sure- but they’re there for the story, not to yank on your heartstrings so hard you feel played.

Some of my favorites:
Miracle and Other Christmas Stories Connie Willis has a goofy and wry sense of humor. Her Christmas stories are sometimes absurd (I love her sendup of It’s a Wonderful Life) and always terrific fun. But even while she’s making fun of things like Christmas letters- she’s got a terrific, respectful warmth for holiday traditions.

The Handmaid and the Carpenter: A Novel I read this one, by Elizabeth Berg, for the Ledger last year. Berg did a beautiful job of creating Mary and Joseph, their doubts, their customs, their world. I was totally swept away. If I say “magical” please don’t take it as holiday hyperbole.

The copy of A Child’s Christmas in Wales I have is this edition. Out of print, which makes me sad. I love these particular illustrations, because I grew up with them. (I also love it as an audiobook.)
Reading The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits made me happy. It dug into the history of printing, literature, Christmas itself, and how the short story “A Christmas Carol” shaped what people expected from the holiday. Cultural history, Christmas cheer, and a good book… that’s pretty much my literary yuletide sweet spot.

So maybe it’s early to deck the halls and the bookshelves, but writing this helps me get ready to finish tackling this year’s holiday books. I’ll post my review when it runs in the Star-Ledger.
In the meantime- got a favorite holiday book? Leave a comment.



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