14 December 2011

christmas stories: go buy this book now

Last night, I went to a Christmas cookie exchange where we read our favorite Christmas stories. I brought the Tomie dePaola-illustrated version of Miracle on 34th Street, and I read aloud the part where little Susan Walker overhears Kris Kringle singing a Dutch Christmas song with a little girl at Macy's.

I always liked that part because—well, of course it's charming and touching and makes you want to believe that he really is Santa Claus—but I always liked it because when Susan is telling her mother about it, astonishment in her voice that this man could speak Dutch, her mother {her ever-practical mother who doesn't want her believing in fairy tales and Santa and other nonsense} says, "Well, Susan, I speak French. That doesn't make me Joan of Arc!"

It's possible that I learned French so that I could one day say that to someone. "I speak French; that doesn't make me Joan of Arc!" I'm not sure when this would be appropriate, so I have yet to use it.

Someone else read the Pearl S. Buck story Christmas Day in the Morning. Have you read that? I'd never heard it until last night, and I almost cried.

And since I so rarely cry, and certainly not in public, that is saying something. Seriously. Go read it right now. Go buy it from Amazon immediately: here's a link. The story, written in that quiet Pearl S. Buck fashion, makes you feel comforted and wistful, all at the same time.

As we approach the shortest day of the year—this time when the world goes into hibernation and we start to cling to any light we see in the darkness—this story fits perfectly with what I've always thought of as the true spirit of Christmas.

It's not in the bright Christmas tunes that start playing in October, those bouncy tunes in the key of Happy Major.

It's not in the wrapping or the bows or in the tables heavy-laden with food.

{I'll stop there before I start to quote The Grinch.}

To me, a truer spirit of Christmas is in that darkness.

In small moments of warmth.

In realizing how much love you have surrounding you, close and tight, in the darkness.

There's a touch of the melancholy in this view of Christmas, I know, which is probably why I'm drawn to those Christmas songs that pull out the minor sadness: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas," for example.

Christmas Day in the Morning is the kind of story you should read when you're starting to feel overwhelmed by that key of Happy Major this time of year. You should have it around for moments when you're not sure you like shopping or your family or even sugar cookies.

When those moments come—and they usually do, these moments when you despair—you can read this story to remember that Christmas is about hope in the darkness.

No, seriously, go buy the book now. Or check it out from the library. However, you want to get this book, just go.

Read it and cry {or almost cry, as the case may be. I don't know your emotional state or how you feel about crying}.

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