We like to do the tree at Christmas. Our boys come back from their grownup lives and we put up the ornaments that Cary and I each brought to the marriage, and we tell the stories behind them and laugh. More quietly each year, I also put out and arrange the Christmas books. Nobody else pays much attention, but I would never want not to have them there.
There’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales, with Dylan Thomas’s magical tumbling of words and memories: All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find.
I love Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory, about an orphan boy and his childlike aunt, and the years before life divided them that they would fill a baby carriage with windfall pecans, pull out an ancient bead purse with their carefully assembled Fruitcake Fund, and put together 31 cakes that went out as far, believe it or not, as the White House.
In Willem Lange’s Favor Johnson: A Christmas Story, fruitcake is central too. Favor is a lonely, old-time Vermonter whose wounded dog is saved on Christmas Eve by a newcomber neighbor who’s a vet; and each Christmas Eve afterward, Favor hand-delivers his own fruitcakes to everyone in his village, in his old blue pickup. “And the village responded. Now, all through the Christmas season there are cars in his dooryard, and his kitchen is piled high with gifts that he enjoys all through the long winter.”
I still have, after all these years, The Animals’ Merry Christmas. The front cover is gone, it was that well-loved when we were little. My secret favorite was the first story, “The Terrible Teddy Bear,” about a boy who was so difficult he doesn’t really deserve anything. But Santa finds just the right gift — a teddy bear who’s just as nearly impossible. And Teddy gets his secret wish.
Whatever holidays you celebrate, I hope yours are warm and happy. And I hope you have stories that you treasure, too.