For many, the holidays are about traditions; those past down from generation to generation and new ones we make, placing our own unique touch on the way we celebrate this special season of gratitude and giving. I asked a few of our lanterns to share holiday books and/or movies that have a special place in their heart, stories that they bring out year after year to be savored and shared.
Linda Ulleseit’s favorite holiday story is The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams.
In it, a stuffed rabbit, a Christmas present, learns that in order to become real he has to be deeply loved. The Skin Horse tells him, “It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” This story has tugged at my heart since I was a little girl. It’s a wonderful tale of the importance of love and tolerance, one I shared with my students and my children.
My son, however, prefers Die Hard as a Christmas movie. That’s a whole different discussion.
In the busy days of December, Rebecca D’Harlingue likes to read relaxing books, historical mysteries, and the occasional historical romance set at Christmas.
My current read? Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas, by Stephanie Barron, one of the myriad novels with Jane Austen as a character. It’s just the ticket to escape the hubbub of the holidays.
My grandchildren and I love Olive, the Other Reindeer, by Vivian Walsh and J. Otto Seibold. Olive is a dog who misunderstands the words to the Rudolph song. She presents herself to Santa as a helper, and it is her special talents of hearing, smelling, and fetching sticks that save the day.
Many Christmas movies bear repetition every year at Rebecca’s house: The Bishop’s Wife, Miracle on 34th Street, Christmas in Connecticut, Christmas Story, A Christmas Carol (the George C. Scott version, of course), to name a few. In the last few years, though, one of my absolute favorites is the animated Arthur Christmas. It’s voiced by some fantastic actors: James McAvoy as Arthur, Santa’s younger son, Jim Broadbent as the present Santa Claus, Bill Nighy as Grandsanta, and Hugh Laurie as Arthur’s brother, Steve, who uses technology to the fullest to help get the presents delivered. The movie is clever, with lots of references to moments in other movies and history. I recently read that it’s the most underrated Christmas movie, so it’s not just that I like it because my husband’s name is Arthur. Ultimately, it also does what any good Christmas story must do – ends with the true meaning of Christmas.
As a horse-loving child growing up urban/suburban, Anne Beggs longed to live on a ranch.
How could I NOT love the original granddaddy of Christmas stories – a donkey and a baby camping in a barn? Oh Holy Night! But I am not here to discuss the New Testament. Historical fiction is our game.
Without a doubt, A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, is my favorite Christmas book and some of my favorite Christmas movies.
My first exposure to this primary tale of Christmas was the 1962 Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol cartoon. It is faithfully performed and has a very catchy soundtrack. I still watch it and sing along at 67.
Imagine my surprise when A Christmas Carol was assigned reading in 7th grade – WHAT? – Charles Dickens. And Mr. Dickens does reference music in the story. I’m listening to God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen as I type.
Historically, I find it interesting how this simple novella invented Christmas as we know it today. Contemporary for Dickens, A Christmas Carol is now historical fiction. Christmas, music, family, devotion, a timeless reflection of Dickens’ and our present times. Greed, avarice, misplaced trust and a hearty dose of redemption and renewal. A real Do-Over. It’s a Wonderful Life, anyone? With an angel instead of a ghost.
The book scarcely touches on religion or the Church. It goes straight to the individual. What is a worthy life? Why are we here? What is the purpose? It is rather pagan with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. For me, and I suspect many others, this speaks to the higher truth of kindness, charity, benevolence, and the greater prosperity of all.
Watching A Christmas Carol with my children (every year we watch George C. Scott or Patrick Stewart and of course Mr. Magoo, and other versions), we can lip sync much of them. It opens great dialogues, including the fine line between helping and enabling. Exploitation. Capitalism and socialism.
But Scrooge is more complicated than that: “I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I cannot afford to make idle people merry.” That is a telling line. Scrooge lives very frugally – miserly with himself. He enjoys the power money gives him but doesn’t live excessively. We witness no whoring, gambling, drunken bashes or opium dens. What a clean cut, wholesome man Scrooge is. Gee Willikins. And an environmentalist before his time: “These are garments, Mr. Cratchit. Garments were invented by the human race as a protection against the cold. Once purchased, they may be used indefinitely for the purpose for which they are intended. Coal burns. Coal is momentary and coal is costly. There will be no more coal burned in this office today, is that quite clear, Mr. Cratchit?” Well said, sir, keep warm and don’t pollute.
For such a short story, we are introduced to many characters, from the different socioeconomic spheres. Though the nobility and royalty are exempt.
I am not the only fan of this holiday tale, Margaret Atwood wrote an excellent essay called Scrooge, and it is available in her Burning Questions book.
I also recommend the movie, The Man Who Invented Christmas. This is not a documentary, but informative and enjoyable all the same.
With great joy and anticipation, I relive the story and the many messages every year. And May God Bless us everyone.
Although her father read to her a lot, C. V. Lee does not recall any special holiday stories from her childhood.
As I got older, my mother was not a big fan of the holidays other than the food part. So my childhood memories revolve around baking Christmas cookies or preparing the holiday dinner.
But with my own children, my husband would read them “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and we would watch animated holiday movies like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Disney shorts. But for my husband and I, It’s A Wonderful Life was the must-watch movie of the season. That is until a couple of years ago when flipping through the channels I came upon the old movie, “It Happened on Fifth Avenue.” I love the humor and the message, so it has definitely been added as a new tradition (oxymoron) for our family.
Michal Strutin and her family celebrate Hanukkah and introduces us to a gem to watch.
Books about Hanukkah? I don’t know of any besides children’s books. Hanukkah is not a major Jewish holiday, although it celebrates the 2nd century BCE successful revolt of a band of Maccabeans against the mighty Seleucid Empire. The miracle is that the Jewish band succeeded, but there’s also the ensuing eight-day miracle of lights from a tiny cruse of oil.
Movies about Hanukkah? No problem: Full Court Miracle. Here’s IMDB’s synopsis: “An African American college basketball star becomes the head coach of a yeshiva’s struggling basketball team in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after a knee injury forces him to leave the game. Based on the true story of Lamont Carr.”
The movie begins with the equivalent of a hand-slap to forehead and a bemoaning “now what?” as Schlotsky, the short but determined leader of his high school basketball squad, wonders if there’s a miracle that can pull them out of last place. The miracle is Lamont Carr, who they meet on public courts where they and Carr are shooting hoops. After great efforts, Schlotsky convinces the dubious Carr to coach them. Carr whips them into shape and dispels his own last-place feeling. Do you think they win the tournament in the end? It’s a Disney movie, so you know it’s coming: a warm, teary-eyed happy ending. Still I got all teary-eyed.
I hope from this blog you have found some new holiday treasures to sample. Please post your favorite holiday books and movies in the comments. I am always ready to read/watch something new.
Happy Holidays from all of us at Paper Lantern Writers.
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C.V. Lee writes historical biographical fiction featuring forgotten heroes and heroines of the past. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Alli, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can find her on Facebook @cvlee.histficwriter and on Instagram @cvleewriter.