Dec 3 2011 3:00pm

A Booklover’s Christmas: Reading Holiday Tales Each Year

Winter Fire by Jo BeverleyI come from a long-line of Christmas aficionados with a host of seasonal rituals, and at my house, Christmas begins the weekend after Thanksgiving. We put up the tree and decorate without restraint. Nativity scenes of crystal, porcelain, and wood have places of honor. Angels, Santa Clauses, and snowmen peek from every corner, and cookies (the first batch anyway) are decorated with the enthusiastic help of little ones.

One of my favorite holiday rituals is reading new Christmas books and rereading favorites. I can remember my mother reading the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke, Clement Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas, and The Bird’s Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggin (most famous for Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm) to my brother, sister, and me when we were still quite small. The latter, a book my mother loved as a child, is a real tearjerker, and tears would be streaming down our faces by the time Mother read the last line:

“And so the old years, fraught with memories, die, one after another, and the new years, bright with hopes, are born to take their places; but Carol lives again in every chime of Christmas bells that peal glad tidings and in every Christmas anthem sung by childish voices.”

Even now when I am aware of the book’s sentimentality, reading that passage leaves me teary-eyed.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan WojciechowskiThe stories my mother read to me are still part of my annual Christmas readathon, as are lots of other children’s books. Sometimes I use the grandkids as an excuse; sometimes I just curl up with one in my favorite chair. I read E. E. Cummings’s Little Tree without fail. The simplicity of the poem and of Chris Raschka’s illustrations delight me, and the child’s promise to the little tree that once it is decorated “there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy” always touches my heart. Another favorite is Susan Wojciechowski’s The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. In romance terms, Toomey is a tortured hero who must open that which has been locked away, both literally and figuratively. In a Christmas story, it is particularly appropriate that a little child leads him to his miracle. Each year Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and the six Herdmans, “the worst kids in the whole history of the world,” captivate me anew. One year I read the book to a class of women, the youngest of whom was seventy, and they loved it. I hope I never get too old for these books.

But I have Christmas favorites in every genre I read. Some are classics. There is Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, of course, which I not only reread every year but also watch film versions, from George C. Scott’s to the Muppets to Bill Murray in Scrooged. I long ago lost count of how many times I have read Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Thomas is a poet even when he writes prose:

“Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed.”

The Christmas Letters by Lee SmithO. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” is another annual reread. How much Porter says in a dozen words:

“One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.”

Some of my favorites are general fiction, a mix of old and new: Miss Read’s Village Christmas makes me long to see Fairacre at Christmas. Lee Smith’s Christmas Letters connects me to three generations of North Carolina women who tell their life stories through Christmas letters, and Mr. Ives’s Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos moves me beyond words with its theme of forgiveness and affirmation in a world of unspeakable evil.

I’m a fan of cozy mysteries too, and I have a stack of Christmas-themed cozies I love. Among them are Nancy Atherton’s Aunt Dimity’s Christmas in which Lori and Father Julian uncover the mystery of a nameless man and Lori discovers the perfect Christmas is very different from the one she planned; Georgette Heyer’s Envious Casca with an unreformed, murdered Scrooge, a Christmas house party, and a locked room mystery; and Patricia Sprinkle’s Mystery Bred in Buckhead, which features an Atlanta society Christmas party, a priceless, unpublished manuscript, and a murderer among Sheila Travis’s own circle.

The Perfect Christmas by Debbie MacomberThen there are the romances. Jo Beverley’s Winter Fire is a favorite. How can you not love a romance with an abandoned baby, a forced engagement, battling lovers, and a benevolent Bey who has gathered most of the Mallorens and some new faces at Rothgar Abbey for Christmas? And Debbie Macomber is practically a Christmas industry on her own. I make sure to read her new one and reread at least one of the adventures of Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy. I think I’ll stop writing about Christmas books and go read one now.

Is reading part of your holiday celebration?


Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.

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Diane Farr
1. DianeFarr
I have a copy of The Birds' Christmas Carol that my mother was given for perfect attendance in Sunday School. She had 5 daughters and we all owned it, read it and loved it, one after the other. I am so pleased to read about it here and discover that someone else loves it too! I realize (now) how corny and sentimental and borderline offensive it is and I just don't care -- it's a wonderful little book.
liz fenwick
2. liz fenwick
I loved The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and wrote and directed a play from in eight grade....haven't thought about that in years... :-)

Love Christmas books..
3. Janga
@Diane, I too am delighted that someone else knows The Birds' Christmas Carol and views it through a lens tinted with nostalgia. Reading books my mother loved gives me a sense of her presence and are cherished for that reason as well.
4. Janga
@liz fenwick, I bet the play based on The Best Christmas Pageant Ever was lots of fun for all involved. I've read it to groups of all ages and it's always been received with delight. There is a film version, but I haven't seen it in ages. I should check to see if it's on DVD.
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