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.