Christmas in Literature
Wherever you are and whatever your faith, Christmas is a season that excites everyone! It’s the season of pumpkin spice, mulled wine, and hot chocolate. It’s the season of snuggling up and watching Christmas films and reliving childhood nostalgia by excitedly singing Christmas carols.
To relieve you from the food coma, we have prepared a list of our 4 favourite Christmas books. While we have purposely stayed away from Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, we absolutely recommend it, if you have not yet read it! These books are best enjoyed with a side of fruitcake, hot chocolate, and a Michael Bublé playlist!
Last Christmas of the War
The Italian Jewish author Primo Levi was imprisoned in a concentration camp called Auschwitz III for 11 months in 1944. Levi recounted that even though the prisoners knew that the war was ending, they did not know anything about their fate, whatever the outcome of the war, they continued to live in the fear of death. After being freed by the Red Army in 1945, Levi wrote about his time at the concentration camp, about the human condition, the human relationship to death, and the adversaries of a fascist rule. In 1944, he spent Christmas in the concentration camp and later wrote an essay about his experience of being there. He wrote,
“And yet a package did finally find its way to me, through a chain of friends, sent by my sister and my mother, who were hidden in Italy. […] The package contained ersatz chocolate, cookies, and powdered milk, but to describe its real value, the impact it had on me and my friend Alberto, is beyond the powers of ordinary language. In the camp, the terms eating, food, hunger, had meanings totally different from their usual ones. That unexpected, improbable, impossible package was like a meteorite, a heavenly object, charged with symbols, immensely precious, and with an enormous momentum.”
A Christmas Memory
A Christmas Memory is an autobiographical short story by Truman Capote. Capote is best known for his novel Breakfast at Tiffany’s which was later adapted to a blockbuster film starring Audrey Hepburn. Capote wrote A Christmas Memory, as a nostalgic ode that revealed the darkness beneath the festive glitter, during the depression era in rural Alabama. The protagonist is a seven-year old boy named Buddy. Capote describes the kitchen as an older cousin makes rum-infused fruit cakes, with pecans that Buddy and his friend had collected in the cold. He also describes the excessive whiskey consumption during the holiday season, that was bought from a scary bootlegger named Haha Jones, since the story takes places during the time of prohibition. Capote also talks about how despite the poverty, they sent cakes to friends and family, including one to the then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Capote writes,
“Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar. A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable—not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate, too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. “Oh my,” she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, “it’s fruitcake weather!”
The Night Before Christmas
Nikolai Gogol is a Ukrainian author best known for his short stories. Written in 1831, The Night Before Christmas is a short story that has been adapted into films and operas multiple times. The story features a battle between a blacksmith and the devil for the heart of a beautiful woman! On a snowy night, the devil steals the moon and a witch steals the stars, the night before Christmas and wreak havoc in the village of Dikanka. The devil does this because he is upset with the blacksmith, Vakula, who paints religious pictures. Vakula is determined to win the moon back for his love, Oksana, the most beautiful woman in the village. With a captivating and hilarious narrative, Gogoi gives the reader a glimpse into the festive traditions of rural Ukraine. There are images of villagers gathering around a fire in the town square and listening to each other’s stories. Children and young adults sing traditional Christmas carols called koliadkis under people’s windows. Gogoi gives the reader the gift of experiencing Christmas in a different place and from a different time! He writes,
“During the devil’s brief excursion out of and back into the chimney, his little side pouch got untied – and the moon slid out and rose slowly into the sky. The whole world changed. The blizzard died down, the ground lit up like a silvery desert, and even the cold seemed warmer. Bands of girls and boys carrying sacks with treats poured into the streets, and Christmas carols filled the air. What a gorgeous night! How can one describe the fun of mingling with the carollers? It’s nice and warm under the sheepskin, the cold paints the young cheeks brighter, and the devil himself goads youngsters into mischief.”
A Redbird Christmas
Fannie Flagg’s A Redbird Christmas is the quintessential feel-good holiday read. The book is often described as a fairy tale for adults. New York Times bestselling author, Flagg’s novel is an enchanting and encaptivating story filled with hope and faith. Oswald T. Campbell, the novel’s protagonist is diagnosed with terminal emphysema. Upon his doctor’s recommendation, Campbell leaves the cold wintry Chicago for a warm, quaint little town called Lost River in Alabama to spend his last Christmas. Through a heart-warming tale filled with yearning, Flagg’s reader finds love, miracles, and goodness. She writes,
“With the last of the sun fading, he could see the reflection of the green lights on the docks across the way and the stars twinkling in the river like small diamonds. What a show. This was better than any movie he had ever seen, and it was different every night. It was so wonderful at times he felt he wanted to do something about it, to try and stop time, make it last longer, but he didn’t know what to do.”