Christmas vacation may not allow even a sliver of the reading time afforded by summer vacation, but so many people I encounter look forward to the possibility of a little time to read, amid all the shopping and other turmoil of the holidays. My holiday traditions include some Christmas stories to which I return again, usually pushing them onto my friends and family as well.
I was first introduced to Truman Capote's lovely short story "A Christmas Memory" when I was student teaching, and I've read it every holiday since. Usually, I find some way to share it with my students too. Anyone who loves Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird has to love this story too. It's so easy to picture the story taking place in a town like Maycomb, Alabama. I picture Buddy, the narrator, as Dill--not the actor who played him in the movie--but the Dill inside my head.
Few stories strike all five senses the way this one does--the scent of the tree, the icy cold water through which they wade, pushing the rickety old baby buggy, the copper smell of pennies as they count the fruitcake money. I still can't get through the final scene in a faraway November without a lump in my throat.
Not all my favorite Christmas stories are tender and touching. For years, I have gotten a perverse kick out of "The Gift of the Magi Indian Giver" from an early collection by Steve Martin, Cruel Shoes.
No Christmas would be complete without David Sedaris' "SantaLand Diaries," just one of his hilarious pieces in Holidays on Ice. The first time I read the story, I was administering a semester exam, and I laughed so hard I disturbed the students during their testing. The only thing that rivals reading this story is listening to Sedaris reading it himself. Nonetheless, he is such a master of tone that I hear his voice when I read anything he writes. When "Santa Santa" insists that elf David sing "Away in a Manger," he channels Billie Holiday and belts it out.
Since I always love those stories told from another point of view, Tom Mula's Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol, the story of Marley's redemption after returning to warn his old partner Scrooge, has been a favorite too.
This year I'm looking forward to reading the rest of Joseph Bathanti's new collections of essays Half of What I Say Is Meaningless after he read from it an account of being asked to read a Christmas story to children at the public library early in his marriage, using the poor judgment of reading a story he hadn't previewed, Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Fir Tree." As is true of most live Christmas trees, the story does not end well.
I'm eager to see which story finds me this year. I don't have much time left to find it, but I hope it will be one I want to read again and again.