The Ecco Book of Christmas Stories
In the run up to Christmas, I’ve been reading short stories from this Canadian anthology, selected and introduced by Alberto Manguel. I thought I’d quote from some of them for Christmas Day, however, be warned – most of these Christmas stories only have fleeting happy moments (which has led to two 1-star reviews on Amazon!). They may not be particularly happy stories for the most part, but this volume is full of literary merit – from Paul Auster to Jeanette Winterson via John Cheever, Jane Gardam and Nabokov – you couldn’t ask for more, especially as it was a charity shop find.
Alice Munro – Turkey Season (1982)
When I was fourteen I got a job at the Turkey Barn for the Christmas season. I was still too young to get a job working in a store or as a part-time waitress; I was also too nervous.
I was a turkey gutter.
Munro goes on to chronicle how our turkeys are prepared for us, and the craziness needed to do the work, but this story does have a snowy lining:
When we came out of the Turkey Barn it was snowing. Lily said it was like a Christmas card, and so it was, with the snow whirling around the street lights in town and around the coloured lights people had put up outside their doorways. …
“Let’s sing,” Lily said. “What’ll we sing?”
“We Three Kings?” said Marjorie. “We Three Turkey Gutters?”
“I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.”
“Why dream? You got it.”
So we sang.
Siegfried Lenz – A Risk for Father Christmas (1960)
Mulka’s office, the source of the advertisement promising fast extra cash, placed Father Christmases all over town, wherever the celestial red-coated bringer of joy was needed, he would send one along. He provided the fluffy berds and the red, frozen, smiling masks; he provided coats, boots and a minibus to drive the Father Christmases to people’s houses, to the “operational area” as Mulka would say – the joy they brought was rigidly organised.
Well – “The Holidays are Coming” according to Coca-Cola…
Graham Greene – A Visit to Morin (1972)
One does not feel alone abroad; I imagined drinking my way through the festival itself in some bierhaus decorated with holly, myself invisible behind the fume of cigars. A German Christmas is Christmas par excellence: singing, sentiment, gluttony.
Muriel Spark – The Leaf-Sweeper (2001)
Johnnie was living with his aunt by then. I was at school, and in the Christmas holidays Miss Geddes gave me her nephew’s pamphlet, How to Grow Rich at Christmas. It sounded very likely, but it turned out that you grow rich at Christmas by doing away with Christmas, and so pondered Johnnie’s pamphlet no more.
There are ghost stories, going away for Christmas, rampant commercialism – tales with a moral, all, with stings in the tail, twists and turns, but occasionally, as in the last in this selection by authors listed alphabetically, Jeanette Winterson’s O’Brien’s first Christmas (1998, which is included in her Christmas collection from last year), there is a nice simple happy ending…
Best wishes to you all for a MERRY CHRISTMAS!
I’ll be back tomorrow with the first post in my Review of the Year series…