Friday, December 2, 2011

Stories of the Season

You can tell it's getting close to Christmas in several ways. The stores have all of the decorations out, which you can see in the tiny gaps between the mobs of people. Christmas events are everywhere: I set a 20-inch story on this week's events alone for my paper, and have one of comparable length ready to go for next week.

And, inevitably, one of your Facebook friends will post an angry rant about the phrase "happy holidays," something I've never understood. Most of us grew up with that phrase, which is said to either people you don't really know that well who may be of a different faith than you (like someone who cashed you out at the supermarket), or people who you won't see with enough frequency to issue separate greetings for the two to four holidays that happen within a week (like the co-worker who requested vacation time starting with Christmas and ending on New Year's). It's not some mid-1990s PC-police invention designed to somehow supress Christianity. I'm always surprised that some people actually believe that, and always irritated when I wish someone happy holidays and they say "Merry Christmas" back in an aggressive manner.

But at least they're fighting. The worst is when people say, in a resigned manner, that they're "not allowed" to say Christmas anymore. By who? Are the cops now issuing tickets to anyone overheard using the word? Some people not only act like the word Christmas is literally outlawed, but like they're resigned to that fact. You'd hope that people would fight. I believe that other religious communities, even the atheist community, would join the fight if there was an attempt to literally outlaw Christmas.

It's just that some people would like the celebration to be more inclusive. They'd like to have the Christian kids at least be aware of what happens in the homes of their Jewish classmates who are singing about Santa alongside them. Or their Hindu, Muslim, or Sikh classmates. And really, doesn't it matter more how Christmas is celebrated in the churches and in homes than at Target? Retailers just want to make as much money off the holiday as they can, and the sole belief system they promote is the belief that you should buy big expensive gifts for people. So, take the greeting in the spirit it was offered, and say whatever you feel comfortable saying, is my philosophy.

But look at me. This was supposed to be a nice post about Christmas stories. The holiday has spawned many things and looms large in literature, and I'm wondering what everyone else enjoys reading around this time of year.

Probably the ultimate literary Christmas classic is "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. Reading it around this time of year has been a feature of my bucket list for the past few years, and I'm hoping to make it happen this year. But my personal favorite Christmas tale is "A Child's Christmas in Wales" by Dylan Thomas.

My sister has taught this story to her English classes as a wonderful lesson in imagery. And it is. You can taste, smell and feel everything in this sweet, humourous story, from the "snow coming down in buckets" to the dead robin the young Thomas finds in the snow, "all but one of its fires out, and the last burning on its breast." The late Dylan McDermott starred in a late-1980s television adaptation of it, as the grandfather who narrates for his grandson a tale of Christmases past. If you ever see it on television or can find a copy on DVD, Netflix or anywhere else, it's worth a watch. A family viewing is usually the last thing we do on Christmas day.

What are your favorite Christmas stories?