With Christmas fast approaching on the calendar, I got to thinking today about Christmas stories. As I understand it, the cable channel ABC Family is known for their 25 Days of Christmas programming block, which includes a plethora of Christmas movies, specials and supposedly, family-friendly fare for the whole family to enjoy. I’m told the Hallmark Channel also sponsors a Countdown to Christmas with holiday movies, specials and other original programs.
I can’t say whether or not these channels bring in lots of viewers with this seasonal programming. The other day, I heard someone describe the programs offered on the Hallmark Channel as: girl-meets-boy, girl-meets-another-boy, first-boy-dispenses-with-second-and-gets-the-girl. I haven’t watched enough Hallmark to know. We’ve always enjoyed the Hallmark Hall of Fame productions like Sarah, Plain and Tall, Breathing Lessons, Promise. (Notice my fancy for James Garner?)
These Hall of Fame productions portray moving and entertaining characters. The stories touch your heart without seeming contrived.
Nowadays, I’ve found it difficult to find a Christmas-related story that isn’t contrived or thematic in a way that has been done so many times as to be worn-out cliché. Producers are, of course, always on the hunt for a good (hardly ever great) Christmas story because there’s a market for it to be read/adapted/ filmed/viewed/sung/marketed with peripheral products, etc. on an annual basis! (In other words, there’s gold in them thar hills!)
I delved into my memory bank to consider the stories that I’ve enjoyed through the years. (As someone born on Christmas, naturally, my own story has always fascinated me!) What I really wanted to think about, however, were the short stories of Christmases Past. A couple special ones came to mind. I’ll highlight one here.
Because we were both born in the same town, I’ve always felt something of a kinship with Eugene Field. He was an American writer with imagination and tenderness for the children for whom he wrote lullabies and poetry. (I have mentioned him before, here.)
Field lived in many places but the picture to the left shows his boyhood home (built in 1829 and now a toy museum). Once a row-house, this building stands (almost by itself) close by St. Louis’s Gateway Arch, Busch Stadium and the muddy Mississippi River (less than half a mile behind this building). I’ve visited Field’s home several times and am so glad they’ve saved it (thus far) from being demolished. I’m afraid, however, that few people today are even slightly familiar with an American writer named Eugene Field.
If you count yourself in that group, here’s a chance to expand your education. In my view, one of Field’s most delightful and tender stories (that I remember from childhood) is titled The First Christmas Tree. (The story runs over 1600 words, so I won’t reproduce it in this space. Please read it by clicking the web-link above.)
Field’s short story isn’t the predictable Christmas fare. It reads like a fairy tale (one of the reasons I love it so much!) It also has a Tolkien flavor to it; think about Treebeard from Middle Earth.
Unlike many of today’s short stories, there’s definitely a spiritual dimension to Field’s story. Whether the story of the Babe born in a stable resonates with you or not, I think you’ll find The First Christmas Tree avoids the trite, sugary-sweet sentimentality of many tales told today. I hope it becomes a favorite for you, just as it is one of mine.