The wonder of Christmas stories

My mother used to say she dreaded the day she returned to school after Christmas vacation. The standing assignment in that small country school was to write about their holiday and the gifts they received.

Growing up in a large family during the Depression, her family didn’t always have gifts.

“So, what did you write about?” I asked.

“My many Christmas gifts!” she exclaimed.

My mother never suffered from writer’s block, even as a schoolgirl.

Her story of not having much at Christmas as a child, then growing into a woman who took the holiday over the top and embodied the joy of Christmas, has the hallmarks of a classic Christmas tale.

The good ones grip your heart and bring you to tears—the stories and the storytellers.

O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi” is about a young couple strapped for cash. He sells his prized watch to buy a comb for her hair. She sells her beautiful long hair to buy a chain for his watch. The story of sacrifice and love culminates in joy and tears.

In 1965, CBS took a huge gamble airing Charles Schultz’ “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” What many executives thought could well be a dud has become a cherished holiday tradition.

One of the newer additions to our collection of classics is “The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey.” It belongs under the Grumpy Old Men category. It is the tender story of a woodworker with a cold and grieving heart, melted by the love of a small boy and his mother who ask him to carve a nativity set.

First place in the Grump category will forever belong to Charles Dickens’ Scrooge in “The Christmas Carol.”

All the components of a classic are in place—the haves and the have-nots, the thankful and the unthankful, an awakening from death to life.

Hans Christian Andersen’s “Little Match Girl,” is a two-tissue cry. The story about a poor young girl who freezes to death trying to sell matches while beholding a vision of her grandmother escorting her to heaven is a good read and even better antidote for a culture flush with comfort and material goods.

But the true Christmas classic is the oldest one. The story is told in verses, not chapters. The simplicity is stunning.

A peasant couple is alone in a strange town and she is about to deliver a baby.

There are no familiar faces, only the unknown and the uncertain. Finding no place to lodge, an innkeeper directs them to a stable.

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths and laid Him in a manger.”

Nearby, shepherds keeping watch over their flock trembled with fear as a celestial being appeared in the sky declaring, “Do not be afraid; I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Still wondering if they could believe their eyes, a multitude of heavenly hosts joined the angel declaring, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom He is pleased.”

And so it was, in the dark of night, long ago, in a place far away, stars blazed in the heavens as a baby boy whom angels declared a Savior, was born to a humble couple in a lowly stable.

And that’s not the end of the story—only the beginning.

Nothing tops the original. It is always the best.

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