So. Here’s my list of possibilities for your Christmas Eve reading with your family.
What’s that? You don’t do a Christmas Eve reading with your family? Well, maybe it’s a good year to start.
Here’s the scenario. Lights twinkling on the tree, flames crackling and spitting in the fireplace, everybody settled into soft cushions, hot wassail all around, and the fragrances of gingerbread and Douglass fir floating along. Now somebody opens a book, clears his or her throat, and starts reading a story out loud, a form of entertainment that has been around since long before radio, television, movies, or video games.
It might be a good tradition starter, and tradition is mighty important during the holidays. You want proof? Go changing things up – like the placement of the tree, or not unpacking a few ugly, old ornaments – and see how quickly somebody howls.
In our house, we put great store in traditions, especially this time of year. We always light a pair of candles in memory of my parents in the front window on Christmas Eve. And we partake of homemade chili for supper (we are Texans born and bred after all), followed by my wife Karen’s famous pumpkin bread. When our girls were young, we’d drive up to Houston during Christmas week to see the Alley Theatre production of “A Christmas Carol.” Those trips fell into a definite routine, which is just another word for tradition. First, we’d have lunch at Birraporetti’s restaurant. Then we’d have the waiter bring around the dessert tray so everyone could mull over their options during the play. In the theater I’d glance at the girls from time to time. When they weren’t watching the stage, they’d be squinting, weighing those various sugary concoctions. Once the curtain fell we hurried through the late afternoon around the corner back to the restaurant for hot chocolate and whatever goodies we’d decided upon. Of course, we sampled each other’s choices. Except for Megan, our youngest, who was downright territorial when it came to chocolate layer cake.
To this day, when all three girls are grown up and out in the world, we’ve established a new tradition. This will be the second year we’ve taken our oldest granddaughter – daughter of Megan, the chocolate aficionado – to Houston to see “The Nutcracker” ballet. So, a tradition has tumbled from one generation to the next, as good traditions are apt to do.
Now, to that list of story possibilities I promised you. I’m including secular literature only and am, of course, leaving out some worthy yarns, the most meaningful of which, to my way of thinking, is the perfect rendering of the Christmas story in Luke’s gospel.
Here’s my suggestions, in no order whatsoever. And I fully understand that getting your kids (or maybe your spouse) to put the cell phones away for a few minutes might prove difficult. But you might be surprised; you might be providing a memory they’ll treasure later.
You really can’t go wrong with “A Christmas Carol,” by Mr. Dickens. It’s lengthy, but it’s worth the time, and I think there are truncated versions. “The Gift of the Magi”, by that old master of the ironic twist O. Henry, is shorter. And it packs a powerful punch about it being better to give than to receive.
One of my favorite short stories is “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”, Dylan Thomas’ superb, poetic reminiscence of the holidays of his boyhood. Mr. Thomas was a genius among poets, but he led a tortured, short life. And this account of what may very well have been his only happy time is mesmerizing. As is “A Christmas Memory”, Truman Capote’s account of helping an odd, elderly relative make a fruitcake to send to President Roosevelt. And don’t forget, especially if you have tiny tots (with their eyes all aglow) in your audience, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss. And there’s always “The Night Before Christmas”, a fine old poem you can rattle off in short order and let everyone get back to their phones
“Maybe Christmas,” the Grinch says in Dr. Seuss’ classic story, “doesn’t come from a store”. A fine thought, that, and worth thinking about.
Maybe Christmas comes, sometimes, from something as simple of a good story written by a talented wordsmith and read out loud on a particularly sacred night.