The Magi honored the Christ child with three gifts.
and in honor of the magi, I read three Christmas tales each December. My Christmas reads are also part of A Literary Christmas – sponsored by In the Bookcase.
At Christmas Time by Anton Chekhov is an extremely short short story – six pages. It is divided neatly into two parts – two separate settings. In the first, an illiterate peasant woman hires someone to write a letter to her only child, a daughter who married and moved away four years earlier. The woman is heartbroken that she hasn’t heard from her daughter. The second setting is the daughter overjoyed to receive her mother’s letter, but then plunged into despair at her plight – married, three small children, in a small apartment, very nearly trapped by her husband, a heartless brute who carelessly forgets to post the letters his wife writes to her parents.
It’s a pretty depressing tale, but quite poignant. Mother and daughter each feel forsaken by the other, but the foibles of human communication hide the truth – that they are loved, remembered, and missed, which would surely be of some comfort in the midst of their dismal lives.
And although I liked At Christmas Time, it left me longing for something a bit cheerier.
Fortunately, next up was Dickens’ The Trial of Life, the fourth of Dickens’ five Christmas tales: A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life, The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain. It is the least popular, least known, and barely qualifies as a Christmas Tale – there is only one scene at Christmas that could have just as affectively been at any time of the year. It is the only one of Dickens’ Christmas tales with no element of supernatural.
It is about Doctor Jeddler who was a great philosopher,
...and the heart and mystery of his philosophy was. To look upon the world as a gigantic practical joke;
But the good Doctor’s philosophy is challenged by the fates and fortunes of his two daughters – beautiful and virtuous as you would expect from Dickens heroines.
And after all, Doctor Jeddler is compelled to change his philosophy…
“It is a world full of hearts,” said the Doctor, hugging his youngest daughter, and bending across her to hug Grace – for he couldn’t separate the sisters; “and a serious world, with all its folly – even with mine, which was enough to have swamped the whole globe; and it is a world on which the sun never rises, but it looks upon a thousand bloodless battles that are some setoff against the miseries and wickedness of Battle-Fields; and it is a world we need be careful how we libel, Heaven forgive us, for it is a world of sacred mysteries, and its Creator only knows what lies beneath the surface of His lightest image!”
I found it to be a marvelous little tale about love and sacrifice, and in true Dickensian fashion, sublimely happy in the end, but yet…
There was an unexpected development. I’ve read quite a bit of Dickens, and thought I knew where he was going, but in the end, he “Wowed” me. Everything was NOT as it seemed. It’s a bit like David Copperfield meets A Tale of Two Cities, much shorter of course, which is high praise since those are two of my favorites by Dickens.
And finally, the best known of the three, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E. T. Hoffman.
You probably know something of the story, of a marvelous nutcracker who comes to life to battle the evil mouse king. It is a fairy tale in the truest sense – there is a mysterious portal between our world and another, that opens at infrequent times and to select few, usually it seems, the innocent and unspoiled.
In this tale, young Marie is the privileged traveler, whom no one believes, except perhaps with a wink and a whisper her eccentric Godfather Drosselmeyer, the clockmaker, toymaker, and almost it seems the director of this drama.
It’s an excellent tale. If you’ve only experienced the ballet based upon this fairy tale, I’d recommend reading the story. There is much more going on than the ballet can reveal.
~ The Wanderer
May you be blessed with
the spirit of the season, which is Peace,
the gladness of the season, which is Hope,
and the heart of the season, which is Love