Dec 112009

shades santaFor many of us book lovers, Christmas is a time when we can kick back and enjoy some classic little pieces of literature– A Christmas Carol, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, A Visit from St. Nicholas, and of course the Nativity stories themselves in Matthew and Luke.

When I have time again for leisure reading, I’ll be reading all those at some point myself, but in the meantime, I’ve strayed off the beaten path a bit and found a few overlooked (or new) classics.  My favorite kinds of reading are things that makes me laugh hard and think hard, ideally both at once. Here are a few I’ve found that fit the bill very well, and that maybe you haven’t heard of. Follow the links to read the complete pieces, and start a new goofy read-aloud tradition this Christmas!

Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus by C. S. Lewis. The ancient Greek historian visits the suspiciously familiar barbarian land of Niatirb and describes some of the holiday rituals of the natives. Two of the most remarkable of these–Exmas and Crissmas–are inexplicably observed on the same day. This piece is a howl, and provides a delightfully satirical skewering of the commercial excesses of the holiday season.

…But during these fifty days the oldest, poorest, and most miserable of the citizens put on false beards and red robes and walk about the market-place; being disguised (in my opinion) as Cronos. And the sellers of gifts no less than the purchasers become pale and weary, because of the crowds and the fog, so that any man who came into a Niatirbian city at this season would think some great public calamity had fallen on Niatirb. This fifty days of preparation is called in their barbarian speech the Exmas Rush….

Mary and Joe: Chicago Style by Mike Royko. The late, great Chicago Tribune columnist retools the Nativity story, providing a hilarious but pointed twist on the idea that there was “no room in the inn” for two poor people from out of town. Beware: once the laughter dies down, you may start feeling the stirrings of your social conscience.

…They went to a cheap hotel. But the clerk jerked his thumb at the door when they couldn’t show a day’s rent in advance.

They walked the streets until they saw a police station. The desk sergeant said they couldn’t sleep in a cell, but he told them how to get to a welfare office.

A man there said they couldn’t get regular assistance because they hadn’t been Illinois residents long enough. But he gave them the address of the emergency welfare office on the West Side….

OK, Virginia, There’s No Santa Claus, but There Is God by Tony Woodlief. This fantastic column appeared last year in, of all places, the Wall Street Journal. Woodlief cites G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and George MacDonald against modern-day rationalists like Richard Dawkins, who seek to take God out of reality the way the rest of us take Santa out of Christmas. But perhaps there’s something more to the story of Christ than there is to the story of Santa…

I suspect that fairy tales and Santa Claus do prepare us to embrace the ultimate Fairy Tale, the one Lewis believed was ingrained in our being. New research from the Université de Montréal and the University of Ottawa indicates that children aren’t overly troubled upon learning that Santa is a myth. But the researchers remained puzzled because while children eventually abandon Santa, they keep believing in God. Lewis would say this is because God is real, but Mr. Dawkins fears it is the lasting damage of fairy tales. While Mr. Dawkins stands ironically alongside Puritans in his readiness to ban fairy tales, Christian apologists like Lewis and Chesterton embraced them, precisely because to embrace Christian dogma is to embrace the extrarational.

The Shop of Ghosts by G. K. Chesterton. Lost in a reverie of abstractions, G. K. Chesterton stumbles into a toy shop and meets Father Christmas, along with some other ghosts of Christmases past.  Paradoxicality ensues.

…”How can heavenly things be too heavenly, or earthly things too earthly? How can one be too good, or too jolly? I don’t understand. But I understand one thing well enough. These modern people are living and I am dead.”

“You may be dead,” I replied. “You ought to know. But as for what they are doing, do not call it living.”….

What about you? What’s your favorite reading material for the Christmas season? Share your literary traditions in the comments below!