My mom used to collect Christmas stories from magazines and newspapers, and it was a tradition of ours for her to read our favorites to us. As we got older, I started reading them to her and my brother, and the folder of stories became mine. About 10 years ago I started looking for more, but either I wasn’t finding the right magazines, or they are just not printing the same type of stories anymore, and maybe that has to do with a desire in North American society to be more inclusive of other religions and traditions. I think it is a shame though, because some of those stories are really beautiful. And although they look like “Christmas” stories – they are decorated like Christmas and often talk about Santa – the best stories I remember are more about being good to each other than they are about Christianity, or the holiday.
For example, one of my favourites is Herkimer the Magic Christmas Bird. It is a Disney-illustrated story about a poor community that didn’t know about Christmas. Herkimer promises them a present at a certain time, and the community, being good people, bring a present for him too. When he doesn’t show up, they give their presents to each other – and that is the present he had designed for them.
If you are cynical, you could look at that story as ploy of consumerism to make people want to buy presents for everyone, but for me, I choose to believe the heart of the story is about a community giving of itself. It wasn’t shiny, expensive presents, they gave what they had to give, and they found someone who would appreciate it.
My very favourite was a long one, and I can’t remember the name, but it was about a poor Irish immigrant family living somewhere in New England in the mid 1900’s. It is told from the view of a teenage girl who is struggling with her younger brother’s belief in Santa Claus, and is angry with her mother for perpetuating what she sees is a lie. Her mom has always made a big show of the whole neighbourhood posting their wish from Santa on their door, and claims that Santa always comes for the list. Somehow, they mostly seem to get what they asked for, except the mom who always wishes for something a poor immigrant would never be able to manage – like a tea set fit to have tea with the queen. But this one year, just before Christmas, the daughter finds a fine old china tea set buried in an aunt’s attic, and she decides to finally make her mom’s wish come true. It makes me cry every time, even just thinking about it now, because the story is not about Christmas – it is about the love between a mom and daughter, and about overcoming that teenage angst I am sure we’ve all felt. It is about two women understanding the difficulties the other faces, and about those silent understandings we can somehow arrive at.
Lots of people have different ideas about what Christmas should really be. Many will focus on it being a Christian tradition, and many others will point out that not everyone is Christian, and even the Christian traditions started with the pagans. My personal issue with this particular holiday is the focus on it being one specific day. I see how that leads to stress for people, and, being part of an extended family myself, I especially see how it leads to having to make decisions about who you spend “that one special day” with. It is good to have a special day, but I think it would be better to spread a few special days throughout the year.
Better still, make every day you get to spend with family and friends special.
As Krusty the Clown says, I wish you a Merry Christmas, happy Chanukah, kwazy Kwanza, a tip-top Tet, a solemn, dignified Ramadan, and a happy whatever-you-want-to-celebrate.