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A feast of Christmas stories

A Christmas Tale by Queen Marie of Romania

By Yolanda Punzalan, VERA Files

The theme of Christmas, the everlastingly great narrative of Christ’s nativity has become the inspiration of major creative works.

Here are some of them, perfect gifts for loved ones and for yourself:

The most popular Christmas–themed story is Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, immortalized by now and retold over generations, even in 3D films.  The Scrooge character that Dickens created, despised by readers, has become the symbol for people who pinch pennies, and of stinginess itself.

Louis May Alcott’s 1868 novel “Little Women”, opens with the chapter on “A March Christmas”, about how four daughters and their mother cheerfully living their wintry Christmas with the father at military camp, conquering their own fears, yet still generously sharing their humble Christmas breakfast with a starving, foreign family living in a bare, miserable room with a sick mother.   They entertain themselves by reenacting the Pilgrim’s Progress play in their own home.

Queen Marie of Romania wrote “A Christmas Tale,”about a very young poor boy named Petru who had to care for his ailing mother, whom he loved deeply.  When the mother’s health seemed all the more debilitating, Petru , filled with love and faith, sets forth to go beyond the forest with a taper and five matchsticks so he could offer its light in the more beautiful church in the yonder richer village.

The Errors of Santa Claus by Stephen LeacockWaylaid by the persistent thumping in the feared haunted well, Petru sacrificed his gift of light  to the child who begged for them.   This Golden Child brought the miracle of healing to Petru’s mom.

“Old Mother Goose” by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps is a powerful  story of redemption and forgiveness of a famous prima donna singer invited to sing the oratorio of the Messiah on Christmas Eve in a great city reception, while her own biological mother, who she left when she was 13, was out there in the cold---pathetic, homeless, pallid and horrible, and without a shawl.

Ladislas Raymont of Poland, the 1924 Nobel Prize winner for Literature wrote “Winter”, which tells of a deeply spiritual family’s way of spending Christmas, as if the Holy Child Himself was lying in the midst of them.  He wrote:  “A man without land is like a man without legs; he crawls about and cannot go anywhere”.

“In this Yuletide night, all the animals understand what we say, because our Lord was born in their midst.  And whosoever shall , being without sin, speak unto them, him will they answer with a human voice, this day they are the equals of man”.

A riveting , extremely brief story, consisting only of a few paragraphs, by 1912 Nobel  winner Gerhart Hauptmann of Germany, is “A Christmas Party”.  It centered on the utterances of a haughty lady, the Bearer of the Order of St. Louise, who had to berate the befuddled guests of the Christ Child, in such humiliating tones that the gifts being given to them were donated by charitable people.  Worse, she gave a hollow-cheeked miner’s wife a terrible tongue lashing, for in the past, the children’s clothes given to her were had instead been sold by her, thus telling her that she didn’t belong to the party.  The author rates this un-Christmas like scene  as so raw, despicable  and repulsive, and is the paradigm for what Christmas parties should not be.

“Which of the Nine”  by Hungarian author Maurus Jo’kai is of a very poor cobbler, excellent  In his craft, but who could hardly make ends meet, because he had nine children to raise.  When their neighbor, a wealthy lord, asked him if he could adopt one of his children, the cobbler could not let go of any of them, even if this would mean a better life and constant travels for the kid.

A Christmas Memory by Truman CapoteAmerican novelist Truman Capote, more popular for his iconic book “In Cold Blood”, and his novella “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” , which became a major classic film, wrote two poignant Christmas stories.  “A Christmas Memory” is a seven-year-old boy’s reminiscences of fruitcake weather time with a sixty year old friend, their rummage sales, and tipsiness over consumption of leftover fruitcake whiskey, and the gifts of self-made kites they gave each other .

“One Christmas” is almost autobiographical. It’s a story of  a young boy’s excruciating experience of Christmas spent in hot New Orleans, with his estranged father and the discomforts, disillusions unraveled before him about his father, and the unreality of Santa Claus.

Canada’s Stephen Leacock wrote the charming piece, “The Errors of Santa Claus”, about two families—the Browns and the Joneses, who busily showed each other the gifts they prepared for the members of their families, and on Christmas Day itself, Santa, who has always been blind, gave the wrong gifts to the wrong people, but in the end, since it’s Christmas, everything got straightened out.

Surely there must be hundreds of Christmas stories waiting for readers to rediscover them. They will definitely keep the interested wide awake, with hearts more than touched  and eyes moistened by their sheer beauty, while they feel the warmth and glow of the meaning of Christmas.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)

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