Over the years I’ve enjoyed many Christmas stories in books and on television. In this post I’m going to share with you my favourites of those told in books that I and my family have.
“The Gift of the Magi”
I’m sure that most of you are familiar with the first story that I’m going to share with you, O. Henry’s classic “The Gift of the Magi.” O. Henry is the pen name of William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), an American short story writer whose stories are still read throughout the world. “The Gift of the Magi,” written in 1905, appears in many collections, including one which I have, The Book of Virtues, edited by William J. Bennett (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993).
O. Henry is noted for his use of surprise endings, and “The Gift of the Magi” contains the best known of them. It features the love of a poor, young couple for each other. They have two prize possessions, Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s and Della’s beautiful long brown hair. Della sells her hair to get money to buy a chain for Jim’s watch. Arriving home, Jim stares at Della with a strange look on his face. Finally he embraces her and gives her his Christmas gift for her, a beautiful set of combs that she had long desired. She hugs the combs to herself and then shows Jim his gift and asks for his watch so that she can see how it looks on him. Smiling he tells her that he’d sold the watch to get money to buy the combs.
O. Henry concludes: “The Magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas gifts. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and received gifts, such as they are the wisest. Everywhere they are the wisest. They are the magi.”
“The Present That Betsy Wanted” and “Christmas Star”
In 2002 the older of my two daughters, Allison, gave my other two children, Robert and Shekinah, the Eddie and Betsy series by Carolyn Haywood (1898-1990). Although a senior, I enjoyed rereading both series because Betsy’s and Billy’s adventures reminded me of my own childhood days. One of the volumes in the Betsy series, Merry Christmas from Betsy (New York: Morrow, 1970) contains several Christmas stories from earlier Betsy books, including the two from the second volume in the series, Betsy and Billy (New York: Morrow, 1941), which I’ll summarize here.
The stories in Betsy and Billy took place when Betsy was in second grade. One day in December Betsy’s mother took her to the city to see Christmas toys and buy Christmas presents. While she was in a big department store, Betsy met a Santa Claus, who asked her what she wanted for Christmas. She told him that she wanted a baby sister and a bicycle and that if she couldn’t have both she wanted the baby sister.
On Christmas morning Betsy’s father took her to her mother’s room and led her to a corner of the room. There was the bassinet that had once been Betsy’s. In it was a tiny baby, sound asleep, whom Betsy’s father told her was a baby sister. As she looked at the baby, she heard voices singing “silent Night.” She tiptoed to her mother’s bed and, when her mother opened her eyes, said, “Thank you for my present. Do you hear ‘Holy Night,’ Mother?” Her mother replied, “Yes, darling. Holy Night.”
After she saw her baby sister Betsy went downstairs with her father. She looked at the things under the Christmas tree and opened her stocking. There was no bicycle, but Betsy didn’t mind, guessing that a bicycle and a baby sister would have been too much. Late in the afternoon the doorbell rang. There was a delivery man with a shiny two-wheel bicycle for Betsy. “Oh, Father.” she said, “a baby sister and a bike, both! It’s wonderful!”
That evening Betsy say on her father’s lap and he read her a book that she’d been given for Christmas. After a while she looked at the Christmas tree from bottom to top. The star at the top seemed to twinkle at her. “Father, ” she cried, I know what I’m going to name the baby…Star.” “Star!” said her father. “Let’s go tell Mother.”
“Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus”
In 2005 Allison gave Robert and Shekinah four volumes of the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) about Laura’s experiences growing up in the American Midwest in pioneer days. The stories show the importance of hard work and family love. Each of the four volumes that Robert and Shekinah have tells a story of how the family spent one of their Christmases. I’ll summarize here the one contained in the second volume of the series, Little House on the Prairie (New York: HarperCollins, 1935).
Day after day it rained and Laura and her sister, Mary, were anxious that Santa Claus wouldn’t find them because of the gray skies and lack of snow. Then about noon the day before Christmas the sky cleared, raising their hopes. But when Ma (their mother) opened the door they heard the creek roaring and knew that they’d have no Christmas because Santa Claus couldn’t cross the roaring creek. They tried not to mind too much, Ma’s telling them that they were lucky little girls to have a good house to live in, a warm fire to sit beside, and a fat turkey for their Christmas dinner. But still they weren’t happy.
In the early morning as they lay in bed they heard someone at the door. When Pa (their father) opened it, they saw that it was the bachelor neighbour who’d been asked to eat dinner with them, Mr. Edwards. He told Pa that he’d swum the creek to get there because Pa’s little ones had to have a Christmas. He continued, “No creek could stop me, after I fetched them their gifts from Independence.”
On hearing that, Laura sat up in bed and asked Mr. Edwards if he’d seen Santa Claus. On being told that he had, Laura and Mary peppered him with questions, “Where? When? What did he look like? What did he say? Did he really give you something for us?” Mr. Edwards told them how he’d met Santa Claus in Independence and how Santa Claus had asked him to take Laura and Mary’s gifts to them because he wouldn’t be able to cross the creek.
While Mr. Edwards was telling Laura and Mary about his meeting Santa Claus, Ma had been filling their stockings, which were hanging at the fireplace, with the gifts that he’d brought. Now she told them they could look. In the stockings each of them found a glittering new cup, two long sticks of red and white peppermint candy, a little heart-shaped cake, and a shining bright new penny. They were too excited to eat much breakfast.
However shortly after came Christmas dinner: the turkey, sweet potatoes brought from town by Mr. Edwards, bread made from the last of the white flour, and stewed dried blackberries and little cakes. Then while Pa, Ma, and Ma sat by the fire and talked about past Christmases, “Mary and Laura looked at their beautiful cakes and played with their pennies and drank their water out of their new cups. And little by little they licked and sucked their sticks of candy, till each stick was sharp-pointed on one end. That was a happy Christmas.”
The Original and Greatest Christmas Story
1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, into Judaea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said unto them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known unto us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:1-20, ESV)
Thus Luke records the birth of Jesus about two thousand years ago. Actually God the Son, Jesus lived among us for just over thirty years and then allowed himself to be crucified to pay the cost required for us to receive the greatest gift possible, eternal life. My Christmas wish for you is that if you haven’t yet accepted that gift you’ll do so this Christmas. Merry Christmas!