All About Christmas

I love Christmas, all of Christmas, even the consumer bits like crowded malls. Not that I go to the crowded malls very often, but when I go during Christmas, I let myself enjoy the experience--no "I'll just be a minute" thinking; you have to let yourself be pummeled by other shoppers; you have to be prepared to wait in lines for twenty minutes; you have to get used to feeling overheated and sweaty. It's all part of the experience.

The only Christmas experience I can't say I like is getting stuck overnight in an airport, which happened to me once. There was really nothing redemptive about the experience. It just stank. But otherwise, I really, really like Christmas.

So below is a list of Christmas books/movies/traditions for your perusal:

1. The Bishop's Wife with Cary Grant (Movie)

The movie, which is practically plotless, is about an angel who comes down and goes ice-skating with an (Episcopalian) Bishop's wife, which somehow ends up convincing the Bishop that he should concentrate on connecting with his flock instead of building his big cathedral.

Best moment in the film: Cary Grant, named Dudley, sits down with the Bishop and his wife at the dinner table. The Bishop's favorite dog gets up and moves from beside the Bishop's chair to beside Dudley's chair. The Bishop looks nonplussed, and Dudley grins at him. Cary Grant is such a goofball that Dudley's grin, far from looking angel-like, is more of the "devil-may-care/boy, aren't we having fun!" variety. And he just keeps grinning. It's very funny.

2. "Journey of the Magi" by T.S. Eliot (Poem)

I know T.S. Eliot is considered terribly politically incorrect these days, but he was a good poet. "Journey" is told from the point of view of one of the magi; it's a sad poem about the death of an age: a unique perspective.

3. Miracle and Other Christmas Stories by Connie Willis

Not one of her best short story collections, but fun anyway. She makes gentle mockery of things like It's a Wonderful Life and the Christmas card obsession. One story is about a woman realizing that people are being taken over by aliens; she figures it out because they've started being nice to each other during the holiday season--at the post office and the airport, etc. The best story is the last, "Epiphany" which is about the Second Coming of Christ and how all the imagery in Revelations, instead of referring to some cataclysmic event, refers to a Carnival. The Christ figure is the guy who drives the Carnival truck. (See below.)

Connie Willis has her own list at the end of Miracle. It includes, naturally, the Christmas story as it appears in the New Testament and, furtherly naturally, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson.

4. Fireside Book of Christmas Stories (Book)

I used to read from this all the time growing up. After I got older, I would get it out of the library every year until my mother got me my own copy through Amazon. My favorites are "The Pasteboard Star" and "The Husband of Mary." The latter is nice because Joseph doesn't get a lot of press, and he must have been a pretty cool guy.

5. Buffy (TV show)

Specifically "Amends" when Angel is saved from suicide by unprecedented snow in Sunnydale. Whedon willingly took on issues like sin and redemption--the natural outcome, I suppose, of creating a (sort of) consistent mythology. I think this creation of mythology may be one attraction fantasy/sci-fi holds for viewers/readers--the genre isn't afraid to tackle Joseph Campbell-like/religious ideas that, otherwise, get cloaked in sentimentality, angst or glib phrases. Touched By An Angel, for instance, was far less spiritual than either X-Files or Buffy.

6. Holmes for the Holidays (Book)

A collection of Sherlock Holmes stories written by admirers, not Arthur Conan Doyle. However, Doyle did write "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," a Christmas story, which justifies take-off Holmes Christmas stories, if such justification is necessary. My favorite from Holmes for the Holidays is "A Scandal in Winter" by Gillian Linscott. It is fantastic. It is not told from Dr. Watson's point of view, yet it captures Holmes perfectly.

7. Speaking of mysteries . . . (Books)

Tied Up in Tinsel by Ngaio Marsh
Hercules Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie
The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers (which actually begins at New Years)

8. Church Mice at Christmas by Graham Oakley (Book)

Not all in print anymore but The Church Mice series are incredibly funny picture books--one of those series where the illustrations coupled with the dry, tongue-in-cheek text provide a great deal of between the lines humor.

9. The Little Princess (Movie)

No! Not the Shirley Temple version (gag gag) but the BBC version which is now impossible to track down. It isn't really a Christmas movie, but the second half starts at Christmas time. There's some great scenes with the family next door, including discussions of going to the pantomime, as well as some very ironic scenes showing the disparity between the "Christian" values of Miss Minchin and the way she treats her staff.

10. Last but not least, some traditions from our family--

Weird fruit from California plus coffee table books.

Sweet cereal for Christmas (and only at Christmas).

Santa and his village set that had been played with so much all the reindeer had two or three legs. It was Santa and his specially challenged reindeer!

Star Wars' presents two years in a row, including a lightsaber that didn't look anything like a "real" lightsaber: I must have thought I could actually request and get a heavy metal object that produced a laser that slashed through people's bodies. Kids are very odd. Recently, I saw a lightsaber at Border's that actually looked more like the "real" thing. I even considered buying it but decided that shelling out $100 for sentimental reasons is not altogether a smart idea.

The Sears catalog--and I've just dated myself.

Woolworths crèche.

Weeble-wobbles & the parachute men in our stockings.

The mechanic peered over [Mel's] shoulder. "Oh, an ad for that crazy carnival," he said. "Yeah, I got a sign for it in the window."

A sign. "For behold, I give you a sign." And the sign was just was it said, a sign. Like the Siamese twins. Like the peace sign on the back of the kid's hand. "For unto us a son is given, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Prince of Peace." On the kid's scarred hand.

It got very dark. They continued west, through Glorieta and Gilead and Beulah Center, searching for multicolored lights glimmering in a cold field, a spinning Ferris wheel and the smell of cotton candy, listening for the screams of the roller coaster and the music of a merry-go-round.

And the star went before them.

--Connie Willis


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