Author P. J. Tracy chooses her top five Christmas tales to curl up with this winter, from Dickens to children's classics
There is still magic in the world, really, there is! You’ll find it in books, of course, which is why we all love them, but to me, nothing more perfectly encapsulates magic than Christmas. I don’t think I’m alone in this belief, because some of the most beloved, timeless stories feature Christmas themes – it’s the perfect opportunity to combine luscious escapism with poignant allegory. And when else can you embrace unabashed sentimentality with abandon?
Perhaps it’s just the lens through which I see Christmas, but the world seems to transform into a better version of itself during the season. People’s hearts open and their spirits transcend the all-consuming, earthly ardors of real life and find time to make things special and perfect for family and friends. Things we take for granted the rest of the year reassert their importance and meaning. Dearly departed loved ones grace us with their presence and fill us with joy in the form of wonderful memories from Christmases past. Anything seems possible, wishes come true. Children see all of this better than anybody, and maybe that’s part of the magic, reconnecting with the innocence of childhood for just a little while and not feel silly about it.
Christmas is not just a time to reinforce connections with family and friends and community, it’s a time to revisit favorite holiday stories that capture the spirit of the season. I’ve compiled a list of my top five, ones I re-read every December in front of the fire while I wait for jolly old St. Nick.
The Gift of the Magi
This is quintessential O. Henry, a brilliant short story with a poignant, ironic twist. Set against the backdrop of Christmas and still very modern in its message, it showcases the selflessness and devotion of love and reminds us that the best gifts can’t be wrapped and put under a tree.
The Night Before Christmas
This is my wild card pick. Only a Russian author could incorporate the devil and a witch in a Christmas story and make it work. It’s pure Gogol - surreal, hilarious, macabre – but like all of his works, there is serious subtext beneath the quirkiness and ultimately, goodness and love conquer evil. Spoiler alert: the story ends with villagers spitting at a likeness of the devil in hell and calling him Poop Head.
A Christmas Carol
A superb juxtaposition of darkness and light. A dour, dark, and creepy paranormal excursion transforms into an uplifting tale about second chances. It’s never too late to take a different path, and if Scrooge can turn around, anybody can.
Twas the Night Before Christmas
Clement Clarke Moore
This poem is beloved for a reason. It’s charming, vivid, and has the cadence of an addictive pop song you’re embarrassed to admit you like. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find many people who couldn’t recite at least part of this verbatim.
And of course . . .
Return of the Magi
P. J. Tracy
We wanted to put a modern, edgy spin on the story of the three wise men by following funny, flawed characters as they are grudgingly thrown together by circumstance and consequently take very personal, transformative journeys as an unlikely squad of misfits. Most important was to write a novel that embodied some of the wonderful things the Christmas season has always represented to us: love, hope, charity, redemption, and of course, a little magic. And no doubt you will find influence from all of the above.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
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