Home for Christmas
Compiled by Miriam LeBlanc
Illustrated by David G. Klein
Plough Publications, 2021
$22 332 pp.
Home for Christmas is a delightful collection of 20 short Christmas-themed stories. Not only are they a joy to read, they also convey deeper meanings, many of them reading like folk tales. Authors range from the well-known Madeleine L’Engle and Pearl Buck to the perhaps less well known (at least in the U.S.) Russian novelist Nikolai Lesskov and German writer Helene Christaller. This makes the book a good introduction to new writers.
Editor Miriam LeBlanc has gathered these tales from several sources—a few from Plough, the quarterly literary magazine of Plough Publications, and many from popular publications like McCall’s and various anthologies. A few have been translated from their original languages, such as German. The stories give us insight into how Christmas is different—and not so different—in various cultures around the globe, from Cuba to Siberia to Vermont. We see how Christmas comes to all: cowboys, farmers, nuns, monks, wise men. Not only that, but the copyrights on these stories range from 1899 to 2013, offering the reader a bit of nostalgia and illustrating how Christmas bridges the gap between past and present.
Home for Christmas is suitable for all ages and would make a lovely book to read aloud, as evidenced by the quote on the back of the volume from Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook. Families often come together during the holidays: in the summer we gather around campfires and picnic tables, but at Christmastime we congregate around the dinner table or snuggle by the fireplace. It is a chance to gather to tell our stories and share life with each other, strengthening the connections we sometimes neglect when we are all off doing our own things. Reading a story or two from this collection aloud can prompt family discussion and a warm time of sharing.
Incidentally, read-aloud is not exclusively for the very young. When I substitute teach, even in a sixth-grade class where the lesson involves reading a story aloud, everyone is engaged. My husband loves when I read to him. Reading has been proven to increase empathy, and when we’re sharing what we read, that empathy creates a common ground. God designed us to both tell and respond to narrative. After all, Jesus shared parables with his disciples all the time. Reading together puts us on the same page, and don’t we all want that these days?
One of my favorite stories from this collection is “The Vexation of Barney Hatch” by B. J. Chute. Originally published in 1957 in The Blue Cup and Other Stories, it tells the tale of a man, Barney, who is down on his luck and whose primary goal is to make just enough money on the street to buy a bottle of whisky. When he takes a job playing Santa Claus, he meets a persistent young boy who thinks Barney is the real Santa and is determined to enlist him in attaining the shiny object of his own desire, a beat-up harmonica in a pawn shop window.
The old, world-weary man and the persistent young boy share much in common. “What Barney knew about people not caring, what the whisky bottle knew, that was what the kid knew too,” Chute writes. In the end, what they both take home is beyond charity; it is the fact that someone in the world sees them and cares. Barney may have thought he was playing the part of Santa, but these two, and even the pawnbroker, have shone a little of the light of Jesus in each other’s lives.
Because I was so affected by the depth of meaning in this short story, and because it was so well-told in the immersive third person, I was curious to learn more about the author. Beatrice J. Chute was born in 1913 in Minnesota and died in 1987 in New York. She wrote four adult novels and hundreds of short stories. Her stories appeared in almost every major magazine in America at the time, including Redbook, Good Housekeeping, the Saturday Evening Post, and Boys’ Life, to name a few. (I find that very impressive, and as a freelance writer myself, I have to admit, I’m a little jealous! But I also want to read more of her work, and I wouldn’t have known about her at all if I hadn’t read this book.) I look forward to reading Chute’s story aloud with my family this Christmas. I know it’ll be a busy time, but, at the very least, it will put us in the same room for a little while!
This treasure of a book would make a lovely gift. The hardcover edition has a festive red spine and a striking cover image of a colored woodcut depicting an adult and a child in a homey, snowy winter scene. The lights of the house silhouetted against the rosy sunset draw the two pictured in the frame, as well as the reader, into a sense of home. Likewise, opposite each story’s title page is an original black-and-white woodcut by artist David Klein that beautifully illustrates the story’s theme.
Although these stories come from far and near and across time, they have a unifying theme of Christian faith as embodied in stories of Christmas, home, and love of our neighbor. We find the concept of Jesus as Emmanuel, “God with us,” appearing in several of them. He is found in the physical gifts offered to the stranger, the gift of hospitality, the cold heart softening. As we gather around the table, the fireside, the manger, let us share with each other and give each one the gift of our presence. ♦
Amy Nicholson hopes to encourage and inspire others through her writing. She has been published in Country Woman, The Old Schoolhouse, The Lookout, and other publications. In addition to writing and discovering grace in ordinary places, Amy substitute teaches. Visit her at: www.amynicholson14.wordpress.com.