More Christmas StoriesDecember 26, 2008
While I was away on vacation, I read four more Christmas stories: Little Maid Marian, by Amy Blanchard; The Christmas Child, by Hesba Stretton; Rosemary, by A.M and C.N. Williamson; and The Romance of a Christmas Card, by Kate Douglas Wiggin. And I think I have a pretty good idea now of what a Christmas Story is supposed to involve.
First, and most obviously, there is the moral. There is no point to a Christmas story without a moral. Usually the moral has to do with forgiveness.
Equally important is the happy ending, although there is a way around this: if your story is really miserable, you can get away with an ending that’s a bit of a downer.
There also seems to be a sort of age requirement. Apparently, by the beginning of the twentieth century, it was no longer acceptable to write a Christmas story about an old guy. Sorry, Scrooge. The protagonist must be either a small and adorable child, or a young man or woman of about the right age to be falling in love.
Finally, as much of the story as possible has to be set at Christmastime. But not necessarily the same Christmastime. I think of it as the fourth classical unity. This has become one of my favorite things about Christmas stories. I really like it when they skip from one Christmas to the next, and then spend half of the second one recounting what’s happened during the course of the year.
Little Maid Marian had particular problems with the unity of Christmastime. Marian, the child heroine, spends some time at the beginning talking about how it would be nice if her grandparents let her have a Christmas tree, and Christmas is sort of the deadline for whatever’s going to happen with her father, but only a chapter or so towards the end actually takes place during the holiday season. I felt a little bit cheated, to be honest. And it was a nice story, on the whole, but there was no real reason for it to be a Christmas story. Christmas just wasn’t necessary to it.
The same could almost by said for Rosemary, the Williamsons’ contribution.While it takes place entirely at Christmas, features both a small adorable child and a young couple who must be reunited, and has a happy ending, it’s a bit lacking in the moral department. Unless the moral has to do with making scheming adventuresses feel bad. Which I could totally get behind, only it doesn’t seem particularly Christmassy.
The Christmas Child is a very proper Christmas story, except for being kind of miserable. But I suppose that’s what one should expect from Hesba Stretton. I wasn’t exactly surprised to find it so unhappy, but I wasn’t particularly pleased, either. I mean, what kind of Christmas story is it when all you can say at the end is, “well, after all, no one actually died“?
All this is just leading up to The Romance of a Christmas Card, and how it is kind of perfect, in its way. It takes place on two successive Christmases. On the first, Reba Larrabee, the minister’s wife, decides to design some Christmas cards, for which she will both draw the pictures and write the verses. The sight of her young friend Letty Boynton sitting in the window of her cottage inspires the first one, and at her publisher’s request she creates a second using a picture of the outside of the cottage.
The following Christmas, each card reaches one of the town’s prodigal sons and brings them home. One is Letty’s brother David, who left her with the care of his twin children and disappeared, and the other is Reba’s stepson Dick, who quarreled with his father and left town around the same time. There’s a proper happy ending, and a proper moral, but that doesn’t matter so much as the fact that it’s a really good story.
The story had a larger, non-Christmassy moral for me: as much as I love silly, mediocre writers like Eleanor Hallowell Abbott and the Williamsons, I should not forget that there’s a reason people like Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin are remembered and the Williamsons are not. Good books don’t need attention from me in the way completely forgotten ones do, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve and reward it.