It’s that time of year for last-minute gift buying, wrapping presents, decorating trees, family celebrations, and reading stories about Christmas. Christmas isn’t only about an abundance of choices for gifts; it’s also the time of the year for an abundance of seasonal choices for reading. You can reach for old favorites like A Christmas Carol or any of the other Charles Dickens Christmas stories, or a shorter work like A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas.
You can also look at genre books about Christmas – science fiction stories, horror, stories, murder mysteries (lots of murder mysteries), and even celebrate the season with your favorite zombie (yes, there are stories about zombies and Christmas).
To see how Christmas is being treated by contemporary writers, I did a kind of random selection and read a collection of plays, a novella, and a short story. I learned that if there if is one common characteristic in Christmas stories, it’s how wildly diverse they are. These selections are not meant to be representative; I don’t think it’s possible to find representative works of Christmas stories in all of their sub-genres.
Five Christmas Plays
Writer David Winters has written about faith and work (Taking God to Work; Sabbatical of the Mind) and a mystery (Driver Confessional). He’s also written Five Christmas Plays, short theatrical works designed specifically for churches to use as part of their Christmas observances.
“The Singing Trees” is about having an obsession for the perfect Christmas – the right decorations, the right food, the right table settings, the right everything – and what happens when it all blows up. “I’ll Be Late for Christmas” is about a family waiting for the father to return from his Army deployment, and he is way past his expected arrival. “Christmas Prayer of Forgiveness” is about a family broken by abandonment and divorce, and what happens when the father returns, seeking forgiveness. In “The Christmas Cabin,” a father brings home an unexpected guest – his daughter from a long-ago relationship. And “Grandma Louise’s Christmas Miracle” is about long-ago stories and the seeming impossibility of a contemporary miracle.
Winters uses sentiment, humor (the waitresses in “I’ll Be Late for Christmas” are the kind of sassy servers you want to meet in small-town diners), empathy, understanding, and basic principles of faith to tell his stories. Each of the five plays is a telling of the Christmas story in a different way.
Pieces on Earth
Author Cathy Bryant has written some 13 books of fiction (like the Miller’s Creek series) and non-fiction (Christian devotionals). Pieces on Earth is a novella that tells the story of Liv, a young Navy wife living in Pensacola with her husband Jeff and daughter Chesney. Jeff’s overseas tours of duty are supposed to be over, and Liv is looking forward to a Christmas with her parents and family in snowy Colorado. Jeff is suddenly ordered to Afghanistan (he’s a Navy pilot) and Liv’s plans are completely upset. Liv discovers she’s pregnant and is so angry with her husband that she chooses not to tell him before he leaves.
She’s a believing, practicing Christian, but she’s also angry with God for allowing her plans to be upset. She stops going to church and starts spending time with her more materialistic secular friends. One faith connection she keeps is telling Bible stories to four-year-old Chesney, helping the child understand the overall story of the Bible. She starts to worry when Jeff’s regular calls home stop; then a friend’s husband is reported killed in action and she learns her own husband is missing in action.
Pieces on Earth is a poignant story of the waning and waxing of faith, how circumstances can seem overwhelming, and how God is always faithful.
Mystery of the Beautiful Old Friend
Michelle Ann Hollstein is the author of the Aggie Underhill mystery series, a fantasy trilogy, a paranormal mystery series, a novel, and several non-fiction books. In the short story “Mystery of the Beautiful Old Friend,” Aggie Underhill, a slightly past middle-aged woman living in Palm Springs, California, is sitting at lunch with her friends Betty Wilcox and Roger Dunlap when she sees her close, personal friend Tom Wood sitting at a nearby table, with a beautiful young woman. Aggie has no room for jealousy; she’s in love with Tom but not ready for marriage, so she’s told him that they should date other people. But one this beautiful?
To make herself feel better and to perhaps compete with the young beauty, Aggie dyes her hair. It’s supposed to be reddish highlights; it turns into fire-engine red, or, as her friend Roger says, “Woody Woodpecker red.” She and Betty go to the mall for Christmas shopping when they spot the beautiful young woman. In the middle of their spying, one of Santa’s elves is found murdered (bodies always seem to turn up when Aggie Underhill is around).
“Mystery of the Beautiful Old Friend” focuses on the more commercial aspects of the Christmas season. It’s also a funny murder mystery; what goes through Aggie’s mind when she realizes what’s happened to her hair causes more than a few laughs.
Top photograph by Freestocks.org via Unsplash. Used with permission.