Words

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.

BTown
More Words...
The Last Ballad
Finding the courage to create change

Working the night shift six nights a week to support her four kids (with another on the way), Ella May Wiggins is tired, and desperate, and her $9-a-week paycheck barely keeps enough food on the table.

Her oldest daughter, Lilly, takes care of the younger children while Ella is at work.…

more »
Skillshare Faire
Give as good as you get

Got a skill? Want a skill? Got a thing? Want a thing?

Skill-sharing is about teaching and learning all kinds of useful, handy and practical skills. Bartering is about offering things you have and know to receive things you do not have and do not know.

“Years ago, lots of people knew how…

more »
The Upcycle
From words to action

In The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability; Designing for Abundance, architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart continue the work begun in Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, where they set forth various ingenious schemes for recycling, endlessly, everything humans…

more »
Events
Today
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Lynden Farmers Market

12:00pm|Front Street

Together for Peace

6:00pm|Majestic

Stream Tour

6:00pm|Whatcom Creek

Day of Peace observes those displaced by war

6:00pm

Trash Talk

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Travel Talk

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

Balkan Folk Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Chuckanut Radio Hour with Nancy Pearl

7:00pm|Village Books

Authentic Illusionist Jay Ownehouse

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

The Addams Family Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Village Books
Tomorrow
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

The Addams Family Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Whatcom Falls Park

Ferndale Farmers Market

3:00pm|Centennial Riverwalk Park

Foof Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Farm Tunes

6:00pm|BelleWood Acres

Oktoberfest Cruises

6:30pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

The Last Outrageous Women

7:00pm|Village Books

7-Day Dance Festival Finale

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Young Frankenstein

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Forever Plaid

7:30pm|Conway Muse

The Mousetrap

7:30pm| Bellingham Theatre Guild

Friday Night Flicks

7:30pm|Van Zandt Community Hall

Figmentally, Circus for All

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

Welcome Back Students Shows

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

BOB_2017 2020 Solutions Sept 2017
Saturday
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

The Addams Family Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Oktoberfest Cruises

6:30pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Young Frankenstein

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Forever Plaid

7:30pm|Conway Muse

The Mousetrap

7:30pm| Bellingham Theatre Guild

Welcome Back Students Shows

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Figmentally, Circus for All

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

South Whatcom Birding Walks

8:00am|South Whatcom Library

Harvest Happens

8:00am|Bellewood Acres

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

Southside Rummage Sale

8:30am| Our Saviour's Lutheran Church

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverfront Plaza

Make It and Take it

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|North Fork Library, Nugents Corner

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Little Mountain Trail 10K

10:00am|Carpenter Creek Winery

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Salmon Sighting

10:00am|Thompson Creek Bridge

Pesto Perfecto

11:00am|Ferndale Library

Council of the Animals

11:00am|Boulevard Park

Trial Vineyard Open House

12:00pm|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Sedro-Woolley Brewfest

2:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

The Art of Living

3:00pm|Deming Library

River Walk

3:00pm| Horseshoe Bend Trailhead.

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Kulshan CLT Community Party

5:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Democrats Dinner

5:30pm| Silver Reef Hotel Casino Spa

BowEdison Anniversary Party

5:30pm|BowEdison

Fall Demo Derby

6:30pm|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Moment

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Salsa Night

9:30pm|Cafe Rumba

see our complete calendar »

Village Books 2020 Solutions Sept 2017 Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Trove Bellingham Farmer’s Market BOB_2017 MBT Janis Joplin