A Literary Christmas

Stories for the season

Monday, December 16, 2013

This year, I didn’t try to fight the Christmas spirit. I’ve been playing holiday albums by everyone from Elvis to John Denver, decked the tree much earlier than usual, have been attending community events such as the Holiday Port Festival and the Lighted Boat Parade, and have even sought out reading material focused on the joys of the season.

When I picked up a copy of A Literary Christmas: Great Contemporary Christmas Stories at the Bellingham Public Library last week, I was expecting to find a compendium of feel-good tales that would further enhance the festive feelings that have been pouring forth from my soul of late.

Instead, what I found in the collection—which was published in 1992 by the Atlantic Monthly Press—was a grittier, more realistic look at what the season of comfort and joy can truly bring. But rather than repel me, the short stories drew me further into my Christmas cocoon.

While part of the draw was that the tales chosen were crafted by supremely gifted writers—Raymond Carver, Jane Smiley, Annie Dillard, Ann Beattie, Grace Paley, and many others made the list—the main attraction was, in fact, the themes of discord that brought light to the fact that Christmas isn’t always “the most wonderful time of the year.”

For example, the opening story, Frank O’Connor’s “Christmas Morning,” focused on two battling brothers, one of whom wakes up early on the big day to discover his sibling has a better present than him. He switches them out, and it’s not long before both brothers come to the grim realization that Santa Claus may not be real.

Tobias Wolff’s “Champagne” takes readers back to the dysfunctional childhood he wrote about so eloquently in This Boy’s Life. His gruff stepfather Dwight is searching for a perfect Christmas, but a ruined tree, moldy chestnuts and a daughter who’s making a bad choice that may affect the rest of her life intercede.

Ntozake Shang’s “Christmas for Sassafras, Cypress & Indigo” highlights a widowed mother’s love for her three daughters, but also draws attention to racial inequality—as does Harper Lee’s simply titled “Christmas,” which gleans some of its source material from To Kill a Mockingbird.

Just when you think someone might be having a perfect holiday, Patricia Highsmith’s “A Clock Ticks at Christmas” shows that even when you’re wealthy, you can quickly lose what matters most.

Although there are a lot of things that go wrong within the 27 stories that make up A Literary Christmas, things do go right occasionally. And guess what—the moments of comfort and joy come from human connections, and understanding that the spirit of the season doesn’t have anything to do with what’s under the tree.

More Words...
Block Party
Making memories at Make.Shift

By the time this issue hits the streets, summer will be morphing into fall and everyone will be making their way inside to sip hot cocoa, knit scarves out of hand-dyed wool and count the rising number of falling leaves from their living-room windows.

Or not. With the Make.Shift Block…

more »
Memory Into Memoir
Red Wheelbarrow Writers tell their tales

It’s partially hidden by the leaves of a tall tree in summer months, but in cooler seasons, the mural of William Carlos Williams’ iconic poem “The Red Wheelbarrow”—and an accompanying visual depiction of the feathered fowl amid the gardening implements mentioned in the verse—stands out…

more »
Of poverty and profit

Milwaukee landlord Sherrena has a strategy. Rather than seek out neighborhoods that will appreciate over time, she buys in areas with depressed property values, buildings where the condition is rough and renters are poor.

Her reasoning? Low-income housing pays. “The ‘hood is good,”…

more »
Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

A gold medal standard


Connected by climate


The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Love, Loss & What I Wore

7:30pm|Heiner Auditorium

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bellingham Bay Marathon

7:30am|Gooseberry Point

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Veterans Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Post 1585

Starry Night Chamber Orchestra

3:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

I, Angus

4:00pm|Village Books

Art of Jazz

4:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Sunday Night Fusion

7:00pm|Presence Studio

Deobrat Mishra


Culture Shock

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Standup Comedy Showcase

8:30pm|The Shakedown

Andrew Subin Everybody’s Store
A gold medal standard


Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

We Grow Market

3:00pm|Northwest Youth Services

Yoga for Outdoor Fitness


Candidate Forum

6:30pm|PUD Building

Cooking with Sea Vegetables

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

The Happy Elf Auditions

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Open Mic

7:00pm|Village Books


8:00pm|Bellingham Public Library


9:30pm|Green Frog

Bellingham Farmer’s Market Swinomish 2016
Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

A gold medal standard


Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

The Happy Elf Auditions

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Making Miso

4:00pm|Skagit Valley Food Co-op

Bingo in Blaine

6:00pm|Blaine Senior Center

All-Paces Run

6:00pm|Fairhaven Runners

Not If But When

6:00pm|Burlington Public Library

Wonton and Char Siu

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Roving Cocktail Party

6:30pm|Gretchen's Kitchen

Bellingham Reads

6:30pm|Bellingham Public Library

Eagle Presentation

7:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Blackfish Prophecy

7:00pm|Village Books

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

Beginning Square Dance

7:00pm|Ten Mile Grange

Monastery Talk

7:00pm|Bellingham Shambhala Meditation Center

see our complete calendar »

Everybody’s Store Northwood Steak and Crab Andrew Subin Village Books Artifacts Wine Bar CW BOB 2016 Swinomish 2016 Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Bellingham Farmer’s Market