Christmas is a great time to be a kid, and a wretched time to be a strapped-for-cash young adult living a dangerous four-hour drive from home. Travel is hectic and stressful, and part of me will be glad to get back to my quiet apartment after several days spent stuffing my face and sticking discarded bows to the family pets.
The “stuff” of Christmas is a source of tension for me. Everyone gets caught up in the shopping and wrapping and craziness, and sometimes the main joy of the season gets lost in the shuffle.
Nothing is better than gathering the family together around the fire (or the space heater, at least in my family) and sharing stories. Whether they come printed on paper or film, or travel through the air in song, each of these stories tells a truly wonderful Christmas tale.
The Story of the Nutcracker Ballet
Although it is Tchaikovsky’s ballet that is most popular, The Nutcracker is actually based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann (“The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” 1816). It is the magical story of a boy prince who is cursed, and a young girl who rescues him.
A ballet company in my hometown puts on a production of The Nutcracker every year, and I must have gone every year from the time I was eight until I was well into middle school.
Everyone can hum the Russian Dance, but I remember things like the Christmas tree onstage growing, growing impossibly huge. And I remember one of the dancers in the Spanish Dance dropping her fan and being mightily embarrassed about it.
I haven’t read Hoffmann’s original tale, and I wonder if it could possibly measure up to the magic of Tchaikovsky’s ballet.
Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
Several of the major events of Alcott’s masterpiece are set at Christmastime.
The book opens on a Christmas in which the March family is suffering. Mr. March is away in the Civil War (as a chaplain), and times are desperate indeed. But it’s an adventurous Christmas for the girls, as they make new friends and learn lessons.
The next Christmas finds Mr. March home, a surprising present for Beth, a life-changing event for Meg, and a lot for Jo to ponder.
Little Women can — and should! — be read all year round, but it feels best to read it at Christmas.
The Long Winter (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
I’ve read all of the Little House on the Prairie series, and several of them have Christmas scenes. The Long Winter, however, deals exclusively with the winter of 1880-1881.
A blizzard in October makes the settlers nervous, and when an old but dignified Native American comes into the town general store and says that the coming winter will be the worst ever seen in South Dakota, Pa Ingalls takes the man seriously and moves his family into town.
The winter is indeed harsh. The trains on which the town depends for food supplies is trapped by snow, and it is only through the foolhardy efforts of Almanzo Wilder and Cap Garland that the townspeople survive the winter.
Eventually the snow clears enough for the train–with the Ingalls’ Christmas barrel–to make it into town.
The Ingalls family sits down to their specially ordered Christmas dinner (complete with turkey) in May.
The Gift of the Magi (O. Henry)
This short story makes me cry every time. The Gift of the Magi is the perfect example of sacrifice and love.
James and his wife Della are very poor, but very much in love. For Christmas, Della decides to sell her knee-length hair in order to buy James a chain for the pocket watch given to him by his grandfather. Unbeknownst to her, James decides to sell his grandfather’s watch in order to buy Della tortoise shell combs for her long hair.
Although each is disappointed that the gift they purchased is now useless, they receive their gifts with joyful tears: each sacrificed their most beloved possession for the person they love.
Focused around the holiday season in London, England, Love Actually is fantastic for lots of reasons. But it’s especially cool to see how the characters are connected to each other, without even realizing it. Slowly each separate plot line weaves into a single truth: “Love, actually, is all around.”
Love Actually is my go-to Christmas movie — in fact, December and January are the only times I’ll watch it.
The 1954 classic starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen. The famous Wallace and Davis (Crosby and Kaye) travel with sisters Betty and Judy Haynes (Clooney and Ellen) to Vermont, a former Army General’s inn is failing.
The snow simply refuses to fall, keeping away skiers and tourists. The four young people take it upon themselves to bring people to the inn — and they so in typical grand, 1950s film style.
It never feels like the holidays until I watch White Christmas.
When Avon saleswoman Peg Boggs decides to visit the Gothic mansion on the hill, the last thing she’s expecting is Edward. An inventor created Edward many years before, but died unexpectedly, leaving Edward incomplete: instead of hands he has only large scissor-like implements.
Taking pity on Edward, Peg takes him home, where he becomes a part of the Boggs family. But not all is well in the pastel world into which Edward has been thrust. There are those who seek to take advantage of or harm the gentle creature, and soon the tension comes to a climax in the mansion in which Edward has remained hidden for so many years.
Although a lot of people consider Edward Scissorhands to be a Halloween film, the story itself is book-ended by an elderly woman telling her granddaughter the origin of snow. Themes like innocence, beauty, and love are present throughout, making it a good–albeit odd–Christmas film.
You’ve Got Mail
This one’s been through several incarnations. The 1940 film Shop Around the Corner is actually a film adaptation of a 1937 play (Parfumerie) by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo. Then in 1998 there was another remake, this one starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.
You’ve Got Mail isn’t set exclusively during Christmas, but that’s when it seems to be shown on television most often. I love this movie because the characters are so snarky and witty, and there are so many great moments. If I tried really hard I could probably quote the film in its entirety.
Music might be just as cool as books. Some is classic, some is new, and some is slightly bizarre. Either way, enjoy, and Merry Christmas!