I know I mention this book every year around this time, but I love it: Connie Willis' Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. It's a big part of my Christmas season, and actually I could read it any time of year.
The title story, "Miracle," is one of Willis' trademark screwball comedies. Lauren, an office worker, is overwhelmed with Christmas tasks--finding a new dress for the Christmas party, mailing her Christmas cards, thinking of what gifts to get her family, and, in addition, has been roped into doing the corporate gift shopping for the office by a co-worker who she has fallen for. She thinks he's her heart's desire, but the Spirit of Christmas Present (as in "gift") decides it's his mission to convince her otherwise, and in the meantime, teach her the true meaning of Christmas. His tactics include turning her black sequined off the shoulder dress into a fetching concoction of bark and leaves, and decorating her Christmas tree with handmade brown objects made by rainforest indians.
Another favorite story is "Inn," which is set in a suburban church during a choir rehearsal. A young homeless couple turns up at the church, barefoot and dressed in completely inappropriate clothing for a December evening. The outcome is somewhat predictable, but it's a lovely story.
From the introduction:
I love Christmas. All of it--decorating the tree and singing in the choir and baking cookies and wrapping presents. I even like the parts most people hate--shopping in crowded malls and reading Christmas newsletters and seeing relatives and standing in baggage check-in lines at the airport.
Okay, I lied. Nobody likes standing in baggage check-in lines. I love seeing people get off the plane, though, and holly and candles and eggnog and carols.
But most of all, I love Christmas stories and movies. Okay, I lied again. I don't love all Christmas stories and movies. It's a Wonderful Life,for instance. And Hans Christian Andersen's "The Fir Tree."
But I love Miracle on 34th Street and Christopher Morley's "The Christmas Tree That Didn't Get Trimmed" and Christina Rosetti's poem "Midwinter." My family watches The Sure Thing and A Christmas Story each year, and we read George V. Higgins's "The Snowsuit of Christmas Past" out loud every Christmas Eve, and eagerly look for new classics to add to our traditions.
There aren't a lot. This is because Christmas stories are much harder to write than they look, partly because the subject matter is fairly limited, and people have been writing them for nearly two thousand years, so they've just about rung all the changes possible on snowmen, Santas, and shepherds.
Stories have been told from the point of view of the fourth wise man (who got waylaid on the way to Bethlehem), the innkeeper, the innkeeper's wife, the donkey, and the star. There've been stories about department-store Santas, phony Santas, burned-out Santas, substitute Santas, reluctant Santas, and dieting Santas, to say nothing of Santa's wife, his elves, his reindeer, and Rudolph. We've had births at Christmas (natch!), deaths, partings, meetings, mayhem, attempted suicides, and sanity hearings. And Christmas in Hawaii, in China, in the past, the future, and outer space. We've heard from the littlest shepherd, the littlest wise man, the littlest angel, and the mouse who wasn't stirring. There's not a lot out there that hasn't already been done.
In addition, the Christmas-story writer has to walk a narrow tightrope between sentiment and skepticism, and most writers end up falling off into either cynicism or mawkish sappiness.
Last night I went up to bed and thought of the book, but hadn't brought it upstairs with me. Out of curiosity, I checked Amazon to see if it had been made available for the Kindle yet, and it had, just last month. So I purchased it ($6.39), and was able to read it immediately, at least until I got sleepy.