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Christmas: a story

December 13, 2010

Today I read seven Christmas stories — except that I’d already read half of one of them, and one of them turned out not to have anything to do with Christmas.

The one I was already halfway through was the creatively titled Christmas: a story, by Zona Gale, inventor of Jarvo and Akko of the prehensile feet. Christmas is, surprisingly, much better than Romance Island, but then, it’s completely different.

Old Trail Town is small, and on the poor side, but it had been doing pretty well when Ebenezer Rule’s factory was open. When the Christmas with which we’re concerned approaches, it’s been closed for over a year, though, and now pretty much everyone is unemployed. The townspeople, led by two local storeowners who haven’t yet been paid for last year’s Christmas gifts, decide that the prudent thing to do is to cancel Christmas altogether.

This being an entirely traditional Christmas story, that doesn’t really work too well. And it’s not just that there’s a spinster named Mary who spends a while standing around in a manger and expects the small child who is coming to live with her to arrive on Christmas Eve, or that Ebenezer Rule and the two storekeepers start by being guided to the town by the arc light at the church and finish by bringing gifts to the child. Actually, that part is kind of cool — it’s not that the story mimics that of the Nativity or anything, just that if there’s an opportunity to create a tableau that suggests the Nativity, Gale takes it.

Anyway, the townspeople of course find that they can’t shut Christmas out completely, and that they don’t want to, and it’s all pretty well done, except for a weird interlude or two where Gale gets vaguely mystical and moralizes a lot about the commercialization of Christmas, and I don’t know, things. Which is a) confusing, and b) totally unnecessary, because actually, the story handles all that stuff by itself. So, not the best Christmas story ever, and one that could have used a ruthless editor, but a pretty satisfactory one.

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