Christmas Short Stories

Christmas isn’t just ubiquitous in stores this time of year. Every sitcom has to have a special Christmas episode. Authors with established contemporary series are often compelled to write a Christmas novella or short story, usually bringing together characters who have never met before. Classic Christmas songs are remade by popular singers–most of whom seem to release at least one Christmas album during their careers.

One of the great things about this tradition, for me, is the prevalence of good-will-toward-men stories. For a short time, we abandon the harsh realities and pessimistic views and, by and large, succumb to happily ever afters. It’s a wonderful yearly trend, methinks, as the rest of the year, we are often inundated with hopeless stories where good does not always prevail and horrible things happen without any uplifting message behind it.

Today, I want to explore three of the great Christmas Short Stories I loved as a youth. When I did a Google search for them, I was amazed at how many I’d forgotten. Do you remember…

[Spoiler warnings, galore. ;)]

The Gift of the Magi
In this rather heartbreaking story, poor newlyweds have only two things they are proud of: her hair and his pocket watch. So, of course, she sells her hair to buy him a pocket watch and he sells his pocket watch to buy her a set of hair clips. Each gave their best to bring their beloved happiness. The final paragraph still resonates with me:

The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

What I love about this story isn’t so much that it is happy, but that it leaves us with no doubt that this couple WILL BE HAPPY. They have what it takes to provide lasting happiness for each other. Their love for each other is truly their greatest possession.

The Little Match Girl
In case you’ve forgotten it, the little girl is supposed to be selling matches on New Year’s Eve, but she hasn’t sold any at all, and fears to go home because her father will likely beat her. She ends up crouched in a corner and strikes the matches to stay warm–but with each match she sees visions of food and warmth and finally of her departed grandmother. She strikes a whole bundle of matches to keep her grandmother nearby, and the lady scoops the little girl up and carries her spirit up to heaven:

But in the corner, at the cold hour of dawn, sat the poor girl, with rosy cheeks and with a smiling mouth, leaning against the wall–frozen to death on the last evening of the old year. Stiff and stark sat the child there with her matches, of which one bundle had been burnt. “She wanted to warm herself,” people said. No one had the slightest suspicion of what beautiful things she had seen; no one even dreamed of the splendor in which, with her grandmother she had entered on the joys of a new year.

Okay, so I guess holiday stories can be stark, too, but this one, as sad as it is, still bears a place in my heart because it helps us all remember to be charitable. When we’re celebrating our own holidays, surrounded by gifts and food and family, it is good to be aware that not all are as blessed. Also, though, I love that this story doesn’t end with just a frozen corpse–the girl was happy, smiling, and with her grandmother. It’s a story of hope, as much as a story of tragedy.

A Christmas Carol
If you don’t know this one, you’ve been living in a hole in the ground. Without internet. And utterly unable to read this post. Regardless, this story is about a crotchety old miser who is visited by the spirits of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future. Through the course of one evening, he realizes that he’s not living the life he wants to live. Though he is rich, he is ignoring his obligation to help others, and is very poor, indeed, when it comes to the things that truly matter in life:

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!

I love this story mostly because my own grandfather played Scrooge every year for what seemed like decades once he was old enough to look the part (he died in his 90’s). I’ll never be able to think of this story without picturing Grandpa in the role. 🙂

If you’re a writer, chances are you will be called upon to write a Christmas story at some point. Remember: your characters can meet with sadness and tragedy, but the ending must spin it in a positive way. Good will towards men should be promoted. Peace on Earth may not be immediately possible, but glimpses of hope are mandatory.

Merry Christmas, everyone!