Dec 11 2008 10:18am

Miracle, And Other Christmas Stories

I love Christmas, but I get tired of the old standbys—the same Christmas carols/songs, the same TV specials (yes, I am so over the Rankin and Bass glycerine reindeer tears), the same movies. Then Hollywood tries to give us new Christmas movies every year, that invariably focus on dysfunctional families, food mishaps, and, of course, someone falling off a roof. What’s up with the roof-falling, anyway? Is it standard now?

But one tradition I can’t get enough of is pulling Connie Willis’s book, Miracle and Other Christmas Stories, off the shelf and reading every story.

When you pick this up, don’t skip Willis’s introduction, which is as entertaining as the stories. She talks about her love of Christmas and her hatred of saccharine or depressing stories. (I’d love to read an updated version of this intro to hear her opinion of “The Christmas Shoes” song and subsequent movie.) She lays out a convincing argument that It’s A Wonderful Life is a terrible Christmas movie: “[Embezzlement charges] don’t disappear just because you pay back the money, even if the cop is smiling in the last scene.” And she explains why Miracle on 34th Street is perhaps the perfect Christmas movie: “...The miracle happens not because of people’s behavior, but in spite of it.”

Her stories are touching, funny, scary, romantic, and poignant. She writes about Santa Claus, Mary and Joseph, and aliens (maybe). She spoofs newsletters, A Christmas Carol, and Sherlock Holmes. My favorite stories include the eponymous “Miracle,” in which the Spirit of Christmas Present (as in gift) shows up to give our heroine her heart’s desire—only she doesn’t know what it is; “Newsletter,” in which aliens take over people to make them actually nice at Christmas (but at what cost?); and “The Pony,” which is an ominous little tale about a psychologist and her pessimistic views of Christmas gifts and what they mean to us.

All of the stories are worthwhile, though; there are none I skip. If you find yourself liking Willis, you can find her more recent novellas online: “Just Like the Ones We Used To Know” (my absolute favorite of her Christmas stories, about everyone in the world getting a white Christmas) and the Hugo-winning novella of 2008, All Seated on the Ground, featuring an alien invasion, but no one can figure out what they want.

If you’re on a kick of looking for more original media to enjoy at Christmas, I also recommend the music of Jody Whitesides, who released his album Christmas Future last year. It’s a collection of original pop Christmas music, a pleasant change from the retreading of the “Carol of the Bells” or “Jingle Bells”—I recommend “Christmas Brought Me You” and “When Christmas Lights Up.” You can get it at iTunes, Amazon, or CDBaby. (Whitesides also has traditional Christmas music albums, if you find you like his sound.)

People are going to try rereleasing the old favorites (I mean, crap, Tori Spelling did a version of A Christmas Carol—almost makes me not want to celebrate the holiday) and they’re going to try making new stories/music (the author has continued The Christmas Shoes storyline—the boy grew up and met a woman with a hole in her heart. I’m sure there’s death and the true meaning of Christmas somewhere in there. I’d read it except projectile vomiting on Christmas isn’t my idea of fun.) Right now we just have to hope that Connie Willis and Jody Whitesides will keep creating new Christmas stories and songs to keep up.

I’ll just hope that Willis won’t write a story where someone falls off a roof.

1. MiltonP
My introduction to Connie Willis was “Just Like the Ones We Used To Know”, and it blew my head off. I'll be looking for this book.

2. housel
Willis amd Whitesides sound amazing, and I will definitely have to check them out before the season is over.
BTW, what *is* up with all the falling off the roof? Seriously? WHY? I agree with every word you wrote, right down to the projectile vomit on Christmas (who wants that anyway?).

I'm surprised though, I thought for sure the amazing Star Wars Holiday Special would be on your "Nice List." Hmmm...
Jason Henninger
3. jasonhenninger
Wow, I had no idea Willis wrote Christmas stories. I will definitely look into it. Sounds great!
Eugene Myers
4. ecmyers
There was a TV movie adaptation of "Just Like the Ones We Used to Know", called Snow Wonder. I never got to see it, but I'd like to, even if it wasn't well reviewed. Mary Tyler Moore is in it!
5. timdodge
You forgot to mention Doomsday Book, which takes place around Christmas during the time of the Black Plague. However, based on your blog post, I think my mom may end up getting a copy of Miracle for Christmas this year.
Ben R
6. sphericaltime
Willis rules. Although I wouldn't actually read Doomsday Book around Christmas because it's so sad. It is among my presents to be given away this year though, actually.
Sandi Kallas
7. Sandikal
I keep this book in my box of Christmas books. It's about to come out once again. I'd really love to see "Miracle" re-released in a hardback edition, maybe with some of Willis' newer Christmas stories. (There are a couple in her "Winds of Marble Arch" collection and we can't forget the novella, "All Seated on the Ground". Nobody does Christmas stories better than Connie Willis.
Pat Knuth
8. Laina
Thanks to you, I pulled this book off the shelf and reread it. Definitely something to add to my Christmas traditions.

And what is it with The Christmas Shoes? I'm not sure what would be the most important thing to me if I were dying, but a new pair of shoes to put on my dead feet wouldn't be on the list. I actually like the tune, if they'd just found totally different words to go with it.
Soon Lee
9. SoonLee
Willis Christmas stories would regularly appear in the December issues of Asimov's (but not this year).

Hugo Winner "All Seated on the Ground" from last year's December issue is still a free read from Asimov's.

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