One of the things I love about this time of year is that it is a wonderful time for stories. The weather’s cold and grim, it can be getting dark by 3.30 pm (which I find depressing), there’s not much on TV, so what could be better than keeping cosy and warm while reading a good book?
Naturally the publishers try to tap into this. It is with very good reason the Christmas book market is a major “pay day” for publishers and long may that continue. Book sales now should help fund the discovery of other writers and fabulous books later.
Favourite Christmas Stories
Naturally, as a Christian, I love the Nativity story (though I do include the horrific tale of the slaughter of the innocents as part of this. It is too convenient to forget this aspect of the story. For children’s church services, you can understand that but there is a realism to the brutality shown here that confirms human nature hasn’t changed much over the millenia. Not everyone welcomed the birth of Christ.).
On a happier note, I love the tales that are associated with the Nativity. For example, how did the robin get its red breast? By burning itself on a fire it was fanning to try to keep the Holy Family warm. In researching this piece, I was delighted to find the Indobase website which has several Christmas legends. Do have a good read. I liked the legends of the spider and the stork especially but I do have a soft spot for tales where kindness is honoured and rewarded. I suppose this is one reason why I am very fond of fairytales. They can reflect the world as you would like it to be but know, even as a child, so often isn’t).
The Night Before Christmas is a wonderful tale. It is merely told in poetic form but the ingredients for a story are there: characters, a point of change, and a resolution. Most of the carols are stories in themselves with a proper beginning, middle and end.
As for A Christmas Carol, it is the commercial story that defines the season for many. It is a huge tribute to Dickens it has never been out of print since its first publication (and I can’t see that changing any time soon). Naturally, I will be watching the Muppet version of this before long. Michael Caine was brilliant as Scrooge here (and I’ve always loved the way Gonzo as narrator recommended reading the book itself at the end of the film! Goodness knows there have been some strange recommendations in their time but there is no way Dickens could have foreseen having his wonderful story recommended to all by puppets! Rightly so too… – it is an odd world at times).
Hogfather by the late, great Terry Pratchett shows the Discworld equivalent of Christmas and, as ever with his work, there are some wonderful observations about human nature (and the need for belief in this case). The Polar Express has a similar theme. I’ve only ever seen the film (with the fabulous Tom Hanks) but it did start life as a book. I like that. To me all the great film stories SHOULD start off as books but then I make no pretence to be unbiased here.
My Christmas-linked stories on Cafelit
Cafelit produce an “advent calendar” of stories and I’m glad to say some of mine have been in here in the past. Here are the links to three of my Christmas related stories – Time to Be Off, The Recruit, and Good to Go. Hope you enjoy them.
One of the things I particularly relished about a book I’ve recently reviewed, Magical Christmas, was the fact the stories originated from around the globe yet universal truths about kindness, hard work, not being greedy etc, shone through them all. (I enjoyed finding out who Mary’s midwife was to name one example!). Good stories always do have universal themes. I look forward to curling up on the sofa at the end of Christmas Day with a good book to indulge in (and yes books are always on my wish list. Come on, you can’t be surprised by that!).
The Role of Books and Stories
Books and the need to tell stories are things that for me define our humanity. We need stories for entertainment, to act as warnings (that’s really what Little Red Riding Hood is all about), and to examine our past and, thanks to sci-fi, what may be our future. Stories can help us discover where the real monsters are (as Doctor Who confirms) and books such as Frankenstein examine who the monsters are. Often those monsters are very close to home!
Stories of course started off with the oral tradition but it is not the format that matters, it is the fact you are taking in stories at all. It is no coincidence that those who read more develop a bigger vocabulary. For example I learned what “soporific” meant thanks to Beatrix Potter! It is yet another reason why encouraging a love of books and stories early on is so important and where children’s fiction writers have an invaluable role.
One thing I wasn’t expecting to find when carrying out some background research for this piece was the link here on the importance of storytelling. I have no problem with the content but look who has come up with this! I guess this makes it official then that storytelling is important. So “indulging” in reading stories is also a good thing officially then! But I need no politician to tell me that…
Stories can be a great way of conveying great truths. They can also conjure up worlds we’ve lost. I think along those lines when I re-read Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings and his depiction of Middle Earth in particular.
One thing I must try and get around to do is watch It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ve heard a lot about the film and the story appeals but it is on my To Do list. A certain politician was renowned for saying “education, education, education” but I would say “story, story, story” and there is much to be learned from them too.
As a writer, you are not only inspired by other authors, but you learn by reading their work about formatting your own stories ready for a publisher, you pick up on their voice and that can show you how to develop your own so anyone reading your work will know it is you by that alone, and, last but not least, ideas spark ideas. The more widely you read and from across the genres, including non-fiction, the more ideas will spark.
I was brought up having a story time at the end of the day until such time as I read for myself before going to sleep. These days, I read fiction and non-fiction, in print and on the Kindle, ahead of sleeping. I like variety. My biggest wish, as always, is having more time to read but I suspect that’s a wish shared by many of you. Hopefully, as with me, there will be a little more time for reading over the Christmas break.
Finally, I was pleased to find this link listing twenty famous Christmas stories. Do you agree with the list? What would you add to it? Which tale here is your favourite and why?
I do hope you have a lovely Christmas and that there are plenty of wonderful stories to re-read, to discover for the first time, and that enable you to enjoy a little escapism from a world that is sad, bad and mad far too often.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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