In the run-up to Christmas, YSJ literature students are putting together posts to enter into the festive frame of mind. Here Charlotte Crawshaw discusses her thoughts on reading to de-stress, the writing of Charles Dickens and Truman Capote.
With Christmas fast approaching, as well as many of us having upcoming assignment deadlines, December can become a stressful time of a lot of us. A great way to wind down is reading but with assignments fast approaching it becomes difficult to find the time to sit and read a full novel. One of the best solutions for this, to still achieve the same level of satisfaction and relaxation, is the short story. First arising around the Nineteenth Century, the short story can be incredibly successful in creating the same level of pleasure as a novel in a fraction of the time. Thousands of short stories have been written since, many of which are Christmas themed and perfect for winding down during the festive season. Warning, spoilers ahead!
The first of these Christmas short stories that I would recommend for a quick read over the holidays is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a classic amongst a vast majority of English readers. This is still an incredibly popular read despite being written in 1843, having been translated into several different languages and adapted for film, stage and even opera. A Christmas Carol has never been out of print since it’s publication, and for good reason!
The story recounts the events which convert Ebenezer Scrouge, a cantankerous elderly man with a hatred for Christmas into a kinder, gentler man with an appreciation for the less fortunate. Dickens was influenced by his own childhood in his writing of this short story, as well as being influenced by his surroundings in the Nineteenth Century. We follow the story of our protagonist, Scrooge, from ‘Stave One’ where we are introduced to him and his greedy, selfish ways. After refusing to attend Christmas dinner with his nephew and turning away two charity workers, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of an old friend, Jacob Marley, who warns him of his predetermined fate. Throughout the story Scrooge is visited by three ghosts; the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. By the end of this somewhat chilling tale, Scrooge has learnt to change his ways and become a vastly changed man; treating everyone with kindness, compassion and generosity for Christmases to come. It’s popularity, even today in the Twenty-First Century, can be attributed to its ability to still embody Christmas in the public imagination. It has come to be a staple of Christmas spirit throughout the ages, Scrooge’s redemption at the end of the tale is incredibly heart-warming and remains to be a classic short story even today.
Next up on this collection of Christmas short stories is A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. This short story was published in 1956, much later than the previous title. This short story follows the tale of a seven-year-old boy enjoying Christmas with his much older cousin told by the narrator who is the younger of the two cousins. Buddy (the narrator) recalls the last Christmas they spent together, where they made Christmas fruitcake, bought whisky and gathered fallen pecans. Having come from a particularly poor family, these festivities have been funded by the pair saving all year. The two bake the fruitcakes for four days leading up to the holiday, before gifting them to friends and brief acquaintances, such as the local bus driver and President Roosevelt. On Christmas Day, when Buddy opens his gifts, he is disappointed to find socks, a years subscription to a religious magazine and a hand-me-down jumper. However, when he and his cousin exchange gifts, he find’s they have handmade kites for each other.
As the day ends, they play out on the pasture together. We soon find out that this was the last Christmas they spent together, as Buddy is sent to military school and then into a brand-new home, without his favourite cousin. The tale ends with our narrator informing us that the cousin had passed away, after spending many Christmases baking alone, claiming to feel like ‘a kite on a broken string’. This heart-warming yet heart-wrenching story is an incredibly emotional but enjoyable read; the narrator’s fond reminiscence of his past Christmases spent with his favourite older cousin something which could warm up any cold heart. Despite the somewhat heart-breaking ending to this story, this is an incredibly poignant and loving story. It is delicately written and describes every sense of being young and joyful during the Christmas holiday, it tells the story of the strength and importance of friendship which is a sure way to brighten anybody’s spirits, in a mere 45 pages.
Both of these texts can be found for free online with Project Gutenberg, so you won’t even have to leave the comfort of your home or wait for an amazon delivery to enjoy these short stories and get into the festive spirit.
Happy reading and Happy Holidays!