Does the title of this short Christmas story inspire visions of Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick, sugar plums, presents and little children? Or perhaps you imagine the comfort of a good night’s sleep and the joy of Christmas morning? Well, wipe those thoughts right out of your mind. Gogol’s The Night Before Christmas is as far from the favourite poem of my childhood as I could imagine. He tells of adultery, the devil, thievery and unrequited love in a way that’s rather odd but extremely amusing. It’s certainly a different perspective on a very important evening.
The True Saint Nicholas: “Like many good things, this story begins with a mother’s prayer.”
I downloaded The True Saint Nicholas on a whim as I was trying to accomplish my reading for A Literary Christmas challenge but I decided to read it for my Christian Greats challenge instead. Oh my, what a amazing book, a fascinating biography of this wonderful saint and his transformation into Santa Claus.
Raised in a prosperous family, Nicholas showed an early intelligence, growing up to become a priest and then experiencing an unexpected appointment as the bishop of Myra. Thus began the Great Persecution under Diocletian where Christians, being suspected as enemies of the empire, were imprisoned, thrown to lions, roasted alive or torn limb from limb. Churches were destroyed and scriptures burned. Galerius followed Diocletian with even stricter edicts, imprisioning and torturing Nicolas until the people became weary of bloodshed and Galerius reinstated Christian rights. Finally Constantine, after seeing a vision of the cross, conquered the empire and proclaimed freedom of religion whereupon Nicolas was eventually released. Both mental and physical destruction of church and families brought about by the Great Persecution was evident in Myra but Nicholas, buoyed by a new inner strength gained by his time in prison, supported people in a way that was nothing short of miraculous and “the doors of his house were open to all.” With his deep trust in God, Nicholas faced life’s challenges with a calm yet active faith which endeared him to all people. Tradition says he was one of the bishops who attended the Council of Nicea which gave us the Nicene Creed, slapping the face of the priest, Arius, who was spreading heresy. He was detained for his troubles but later released. Our good saint spent the rest of his life in Myra, serving the people and in his later years, his greatest joy were the children who came to him. In 340, Nicholas fell ill and died on what is now his feast day, December 6th. He was buried in a marble tomb in the city’s cathedral.
For someone who has read Cold Comfort Farm, I was so excited to find this book, however I was disappointed to discover the title is misleading. Instead of being further adventures from Cold Comfort Farm, it is actually a compilation of short stories by Stella Gibbons and Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm is only one of them. And to add further disappointment, only one or two of them even remotely mentions Christmas. Fool me once, and all that ……
In any case, for a book of short stories they were quite interesting, even if they were mostly missing the Christmas theme.
The Little Christmas Tree
Thirty-three year old Miss Rhoda Harting is a single spinster who makes her living as a writer. Retiring to a cottage in Buckinghamshire one Christmas season she finds herself lonely, a stark contrast to her usually reclusive yet positive character. On Christmas Day she encounters three children at her door who are attracted by her tiny Christmas tree in the window of her cottage. After lunch and a wild story, the arrival of their father sets up a question: is Rhoda destined to live life as a spinster or will love rearrange her carefully ordered life?
“Marley was as dead as a doornail.”
We all know this treasured Christmas story. Scrooge, a cantankerous old bachelor who lives a solitary life and whose sole purpose is to increase his wealth, initially has a vision of his dead partner, Jacob Marley, on his doorknocker. Not one for fancy, Scrooge humbugs his daydream, but when he is visited by Marley’s ghost, which is then succeeded by three other spirits – the spirits of Christmas past, present, and future, Scrooge learns many lessons of what he has lost, what he has become, and his fate if he continues on his selfish and merciless path.
In the Bookcase is hosting A Literary Christmas challenge and since I’ve been so neglectful of many of my other challenges this year, I wanted to try to finish on a high note. Therefore, I’m joining!
All I have to do is to make a list of Christmas books I’d like to read and then finish as many of them as I can on or before December 31, 2018. I should have some time off this Christmas so I have high hopes of doing well with this challenge. Plus, I can slot in some wonderful (shorter) children’s Christmas classics, which will make it a little easier on me.
“Along some parts of the coast in South Wales the mountains rise abruptly from the shore, with only a narrow shingle between them and the sea.”
Miss Priscilla Parry is a farm leaseholder, the last of three generations before the farm will revert to its landlord. She ekes out a living on the craggy, unfertile land, selling butter, cheese and mutton to manage a poor living. Her life’s work is epitomized in her determination to make her teenage ward and niece, Rhoda, independent, so she will never be forced to marry, the biggest misfortune, in Priscilla’s eyes, that a woman could face.
When another niece dies and leaves a child, Joan, an orphan, Priscilla grudging agrees to take her in, yet in her concern that the plans for Rhoda not be compromised, she gives the child rather a lukewarm welcome and questionable care. Little does she need another girl to worry and fret about her future. Rhoda, however, adores young Joan, and they quickly become fast friends. When Christmas arrives, they play a game of looking for the Christ child in their manager, but on the second Christmas Rhoda disappears and the household is thrown into mourning. Old Nathan, the servant, is the only one to comfort Joan, as Priscilla withdraws into a cold demeanour of disappointed hopes.
However, the next Christmas, a child is discovered sleeping in the manager, a child that will bring hope, restoration and joy back into the lives of Priscilla, Joan and old Nathan, echoing the mission of that first manger child long, long ago.
This is a wonderful story of love, mistakes, forgiveness and reconciliation. Coincidentially, I found this article when searching for pictures for my blog post. Hopefully the life of this little one will bring joy into this world as well.
|View north into Cwm Llwch from Corn Du
Most years I receive a good number of books, but this year was slightly unusual, not because of the number of books I received, but because of the eclectic variety. I can’t wait to start reading them.