A Trio of Short Stories for Christmas Eve

I feel thankful this December. There are a lot of really difficult things in the world, both close to home and far away, but I’m doing my best to focus on the small, good things that make their way to me. I’m so grateful that I can be with my family this Christmas, and see some dear friends. I’m thankful for the bits of good that have returned slowly but surely after the last couple of years. I’m even more aware now that all things change and that both the good and the bad will pass, so I will take all the good and savour it. I’ll continue to work on accepting the difficult things too, which is not as easy.

So. Small pleasures. I decided to read a trio of Canadian Christmas short stories this month. More intentional about my reading life this year, I decided to read seasonally, something I’ve never done. It’s truly enhanced my Christmas season. Interestingly, the theme in each of the stories that resonated for me was of the preciousness of a moment in time, and of the connections we make in those moments. There is a sense of the celebratory, but also sadness in knowing that these moments will pass. Nostalgia can be a warm but melancholy thing.

First I chose two stories by David Adams Richards and illustrated in black and white by Vince McIndoe. A Canadian writer born in New Brunswick, Richards won the Giller prize in 2000, and also won a Governor General’s Award for both fiction and non-fiction. Such a talented writer, and I’ve only just discovered his words. He was appointed to the Canadian Senate in 2017. The small volume I checked out of the library, The Christmas Tree, included two stories published in 2006.

In The Carmichael’s Dog, two young brothers find a lost puppy deep in the snow. What to do? It’s a beautiful and heartwarming tale perfect for children, but also tinged with sadness. Here is a sense of time passing:

“Those were the days when the snow beckoned us as it swept over our faces and lay in folds against trees and houses and across wind-forlorn, forgotten fields. Most of the houses that blinked out in the distance are now gone–and all the fiery energy of those wonderful joyous people has now been swept away and laid to rest.”

The second story, which I liked better, is The Christmas Tree, the short but adventurous tale of finding a tree to cut down on Christmas eve in 1972 (the year I was born!). It was a different time, and I enjoyed reading about the nonchalance with which the teenage brothers just set off in the deep snow with no real plan and little preparation. It is joyful, but also a snapshot of the past. “All that was long ago; both my parents are gone. The house is no longer ours, and most of the people I grew up with I no longer know.”

For the third story, I settled on a tale by Alistair MacLeod, who was raised in Cape Breton and was an English professor. He didn’t publish his first novel until age sixty-four. He has been described as a master of the short story, but did write one celebrated novel. He died in 2014. The book is beautifully illustrated by Peter Rankin. The mastery in his writing is evident; he was able to capture the beauty and wonder of Christmas from a child’s perspective, but also share the reader’s wisdom that childhood is a temporary reprieve from the cares of adulthood, which can be difficult indeed. I loved a passage about Santa Claus from the eleven-year-old protagonist:

“I am troubled myself about the nature of Santa Claus and I am trying to hang on to him in any way that I can. It is true that at my age I no longer really believed in him, yet I have hoped in all his possibilities as fiercely as I can; much in the same way, I think, that the drowning man waves desperately to the lights of the passing ship on the high sea’s darkness. For without him, as without the man’s ship, it seems our fragile lives would be so much more desperate.”

Though all three stories were good to read, the MacLeod story is a keeper. It shows the skill of a master storyteller, and conveys so much feeling in a tiny package. It’s something that I can see myself returning to year after year. A small pleasure; something to savour.