Saturday, December 24, 2016

Three Short Christmas Tales - 2016

According to Saint Matthew, wise men brought gifts to the Christ child in Bethlehem.

Apart from this, much of how we imagine the wise men is based on tradition rather than recorded history. We do not know for instance, that there were three. The number is inferred from their three distinct gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Much less do we know their identities, though tradition has ascribed them to be Balthasar, Caspar, and Melchior. These three are often portrayed as African, Oriental, and European – merely tradition. Scripture records only that they were from the east. Etymology of the word “wise men” or magi suggests Persia. Perhaps the greatest inaccuracy in our perception is that they were present at the nativity, the birth of Christ, at all. Contextual clues in Matthew’s gospel suggest the wise men arrived nearly two years after the birth of Christ.

Nonetheless they were wise, for they sought – and found – and worshiped, the Christ.


Last year I read three short Christmas tales. I had no particular reason for three, but now it’s tradition. I’ll say it is in reference to the three gifts of the wise men.



Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

The is not really a tale, but merely a record of letters that Tolkien wrote to his children, John, Michael, Christopher, and Priscilla. The letters are from 1920 to 1943.

Posing as Father Christmas, Prof. Tolkien recounts various delights and dilemmas at the North Pole in preparing each year’s deliveries. Father Christmas is assisted, and confounded, by the North Polar Bear, who is well intentioned but somewhat bumbling.

My favorite letter was 1937. Tolkien’s youngest child and only daughter Priscilla was apparently a great reader. Father Christmas said he had thought of sending her “Hobbits” (copies of the book), but he figured she already had plenty of copies. (The Hobbit was published earlier that year.)

There are also charming illustrations throughout, drawn by Father Christmas, or the North Polar Bear, for the children, in reality of course, drawn by Prof. Tolkien.

Father Christmas even recounts wars with the goblins at the North Pole. I think Tolkien, via Father Christmas, was telling the children that war is a reality, that it is serious, but that it is an adult problem and that it would not last forever.

I enjoyed learning about one of my favorite authors through this very personal glimpse of his devotion to his children.



The Burglar’s Christmas by Willa Cather

From the title, and a little knowledge of Cather, you can probably guess the theme of this story.

A poor lost soul, near the end of his rope, resorts to desperate measures – only to find hope, on the Holy Night of Hope.

I won’t describe it further. It is touching and poignant.

Excerpts:

He had demanded great things from the world once: fame and wealth and admiration. Now it was simply bread.

It is a tragic hour, that hour when we are finally driven to reckon with ourselves, when every avenue of mental distraction has been cut off and our own life and all its ineffaceable failures closes about us like the walls of that old torture chamber of the inquisition. Tonight, as this man stood stranded in the streets of the city, his hour came.

From this brilliant city with its glad bustle of Yule-tide he was shut off as completely as though here were a creature of another species.

Have you wandered so far and paid such a bitter price for knowledge and not yet learned that love has nothing to do with pardon or forgiveness, that it only loves, and loves – and loves?


The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens

The Cricket on the Hearth is the third of Dickens’ Christmas stories, though probably the second best known, after A Christmas Carol. The Cricket is a novella, third-person narrative of John and Dot Peerybingle, and their perfect little home, that is nearly ruined by a misunderstanding. The Cricket is merely a household – hmm, guest I might say, as it is cherished and welcomed by the occupants. When it chirps, it seems to be a harbinger of comfort and contentment. It also seems to be a good-luck spirit, or faerie that watches over the good fortune of the home. Not fortune of riches, but riches of love and peace.

John, is a carrier (a delivery man of sorts), and loves his sweet young wife Dot, with complete devotion, along with their young baby.

…this lumbering, slow, honest John; this John so heavy but so light of spirit; so rough upon the surface, but so gentle at the core; so dull without, so quick within; so stolid, but so good! Oh Mother Nature, give thy children the true Poetry of Heart that hid itself in this poor Carrier’s breast.

As I’ve mentioned, they reside in the very picture of a happy home. But it is nearly destroyed when John witnesses a compromising exchange between Dot and a young man. Heartbroken, he spends a long pensive night, during which, unknown to him, consciously at least, the Cricket and attending faeries, whisper reassuring thoughts of Dot’s constancy. But they only succeed in convincing John, that there is no fault in Dot. He concludes the fault must be his own, for marrying a younger woman. He determines to set her free, though his heart remains broken.

The reader can never really doubt Dot, though neither can they understand the meaning of the compromising circumstances. In true Dickens fashion, unexpected and joyous revelations set all thing right, and then set other things even better.

It’s a charming little tale. Not quite equal to A Christmas Carol, I think, but still worth a read.


Wishing you a Blessed Christmas!

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4 comments:

  1. I love the Father Christmas letters. On our first Christmas after we were married my husband gave me a stuffed polar bear that I immediately named Paksu. I still have him almost 30 years later. Um...the husband AND the polar bear. :)

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    Replies
    1. Congrats on hanging on to em both, and thanks for the feedback. May you have a Happy New Year!

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  2. The only one of these I've read so far is Letters from Father Christmas which I 100% adored.

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