These tales can rekindle holiday spirit

For the December column over the last several years, I’ve adapted famous Christmas stories for our particular circumstances in Lakewood and East Dallas. Which was fun to do, but also got me thinking: Why limit ourselves to the stories that we know?

Yes, Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi” and Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” are worth noting — and stealing from — but there are so many other stories that deserve mention.

So, my gift this holiday season is this list. Take a few minutes, preferably when you’re feeling overwhelmed and need a respite from the foolishness that the holidays often force on us, and find one of these stories (a Google search should suffice). Because it will help.

Mike Royko, “A Chicago-style Christmas for Mary and Joe.” Royko, a Chicago newspaper columnist, was part crank, part satirist and part gritty urban poet. This re-telling of the nativity story first appeared in 1967, and I’ve remembered it ever since. And especially the haunting first couple of lines: “Mary and Joe were flat broke when they got off the bus in Chicago. They didn’t know anybody and she was expecting a baby.”

Willa Cather, “The Burglar’s Christmas.” Cather was an early 20th century Midwestern novelist who is mostly relegated to graduate courses these days, but she had a keen ear for dialogue and a sensibility for her people and times. This story, written in 1896, retains a certain power: “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.”

Anton Chekhov, “At Christmas Time.” The Russian writer used irony and understatement as few have, and this 1915 story brims with it. Read this, and the next time you wonder about family and what it means, you’ll remember this story.

Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” Sherlock Holmes celebrates Christmas in 1891 with Dr. Watson, a missing goose, a battered hat and a jewel robbery. “‘I can see nothing,’ said [Watson], handing [the hat] back to my friend. ‘On the contrary, Watson, you can see everything. You fail, however, to reason from what you see. You are too timid in drawing your inferences.’ ”

Mark Twain, “The Christmas Fireside.” Twain wrote this for a San Francisco magazine in 1865, and it doesn’t seem to have much to do with the holiday. But maybe that was the point of Twain’s story, which features a bad little boy named Jim who never quite seems to get his comeuppance the way he should at Christmastime.

James Thurber, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas in the Ernest Hemingway Tradition.” Thurber was one of the country’s foremost cartoonists and humorists (“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”), and this takeoff on the Clement Moore classic that appeared in the New Yorker in 1924 will make anyone smile who ever took a Hemingway class. There are. Many. Short sentences: “ ‘Who is it?’ mamma asked. ‘Some guy,’ I said. ‘A little guy.’ ”

Dylan Thomas, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” The Welsh poet wrote this in 1952, and it’s an evocative portrait of the holiday: “One, two, three, and we began to sing, our voices high and seemingly distant in the snow-felted darkness round the house that was occupied by nobody we knew. We stood close together, near the dark door. Good King Wencelas looked out on the Feast of Stephen … And then a small, dry voice, like the voice of someone who has not spoken for a long time, joined our singing: a small, dry, eggshell voice from the other side of the door: a small, dry voice through the keyhole.”


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