gems to read during the Advent and Holiday Seasons, and this year, after just recently finishing the gritty, disturbing-at-times, absolutely gripping novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I am more than ready to continue my annual tradition.
It is so easy this time of year to get caught up in the frenzy of activity, especially when you have children: extra rehearsals for concerts, the concerts themselves, parties, baking and cooking for various events, Christmas shopping, decorating, writing the annual Christmas letter, addressing cards (yes, I still do this by snail mail), packaging up parcels for faraway friends and family, "etcetera. etcetera, etcetera", as the King of Siam is known to have said. It is all fun and definitely worth doing, but it can be exhausting if I do not take a little time every day to just sit and relax. Reading seems to be the perfect antidote to the wearying effects of a busy day.
The other night, my nine year old daughter asked me to read her a book. She is a voracious reader herself, but she seems to have rediscovered the coziness of sitting on my lap under a blanket and listening to me read a favourite story. She is participating in something called The Reading Challenge at school. The group has to read five novels over ten weeks and then attend an event where they go up against other schools in the district answering questions that test their comprehension of what they have read. To break up the monotony of reading books that have been prescribed by someone else, she is nightly hauling out all the Christmas picture books we have collected over the years and enjoying them greatly. This particular night it was a little past her bedtime, but she must have known if she asked me to read her the book she held in her hand I would give in. Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas by Russell and Lillian Hoban is a favourite story that I knew as a film before I knew it as a book; the inimitable Jim Henson made a sweet and funny Muppet-tale of it when I was a youngster. Now we own a DVD of the film, which my girls love, and a copy of the book. Emmett Otter's Jug Band Christmas is everything a Christmas story should be. It is about some characters that have very little in the way of material goods, but everything in the way of love for each other, and its storyline is similar to The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. In the story, the mother otter and her son risk everything to give each other a very special gift for Christmas, which does not work out very well, but results in something infinitely better for not only the two of them, but for some of their friends, too. It is the kind of story that brings me back to my roots and to the true origins of gift giving. It also kind of counteracts what I heard in a store the other day. I was buying an amaryllis as a thank-you gift and the woman who works at the shop offered to take off the price sticker off the plant's container for me: "Or I could leave it on. That's what I do when I give something expensive to my sister, so she knows how much to spend on me in return."
When one has the means to "make Christmas and keep it all year long", in a material sense, it can, I find, make life a bit intense at this time of year. In my family, we are not big on expensive gifts, but we do put a lot of thought into choosing presents for each other. We have traditions from both sides of the family, special foods we cook, special treats we bake, decorations buried for eleven months of the year we unearth and dust off, and the house to clean and make ready for guests. We do all of this because we can, but there are many that cannot, or have lost the will to try. Christmas can be incredibly hard for some. When I read a variety of stories from a variety of writers who all keep Christmas in a different way, it opens my mind and expands my view. It makes me incredibly grateful for the love I am so fortunate to have, the life I am so blessed to live, and gives me a deeper sense of the true nature of this magical Season. It also gives me faith that if I were to lose everything I have, I might still be able to celebrate, if only in my heart and imagination. Which is no small thing.