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Stories for a Winter's Night

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless

There’s a scene in the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where the Griswold family is gathered together, Christmas tree lights twinkling in the background, reading aloud “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”, Clement Clark Moore’s classic poem. And for many families, that’s not just an idyllic holiday tradition staged for a film; in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, there’s something to be said for taking time to slow down and sit curled in a favorite chair or on the couch, cozily reading (by yourself, or with loved ones snuggled up close).

In that spirit, during this often-too-busy season, here are some suggestions for holiday stories to slow down with and savor. Most of them are no more than a few pages, so whether you can only spare fifteen minutes of solitude to catch your breath or you’ve carved out an entire evening’s worth of time for yourself, you can read these one by one or all at once. So grab a blanket, a warm mug of a favorite drink, and settle in for a long (or short) winter's read.  

Bertie’s Christmas Eve by Saki

“Dang kids nowadays!”—that's the cliché refrain of a stereotypical crabby older person, upset and disillusioned with the youth of today. As Saki’s short story proves though, it’s not just the older generations of our modern day who dealt with rebellious "ne'er-do-wells"; they were around in the 1800s causing trouble too.

In Bertie's Christmas Eve, we join the Steffink family’s party as they entertain guests for the holiday. Like most young adults, now and then, Bertie Steffink begrudgingly tolerates the celebration until a mention of an old Christmastime belief gives him an idea about how he can liven up the party.

Saki was the pen name of British writer H.H. Munro, who is considered by many to be one of the masters of the short story genre. His work often satirized Edwardian era culture and society, and are known for sometimes having mischievous elements in them. Bertie’s Christmas Eve is a prime example of this, and while it’s not nice to laugh at other people’s misfortune, you probably won’t be able to stop yourself from at least smiling at what Bertie does to make his night a little bit more interesting.

You can find a link to this story at: www.eastoftheweb.com

Christmas; or, The Good Fairy by Harriet Beecher Stowe

American writer and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe may be best known for her most famous work, the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but her belief in caring and compassion comes through very clearly in this short story too.

First set in the house of a well-off young lady named Ella, readers have the chance to listen to her conversation with a friend as she laments about what kind of Christmas gifts she should buy for the people on her list who seem to (truly) “have it all”. When her Aunt Eleanor chimes in and suggests that she put her money to a more charitable use, Ella learns that "gifts coming from love, and tending to produce love; these are the appropriate gifts of the day." 

You can find a link to this story at: www.americanliterature.com

The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen

People all over the world recognize the name Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish writer probably best known for the fairy tales he crafted. His work has had such a lasting impact that each year, Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday, April 2nd, is celebrated as International Children’s Book Day.

In a season of peacefulness and cheer, The Little Match Girl might seem like an odd choice to include on my holiday reading list. Yes, it’s set in winter, on a snowy New Year’s Eve, but (without giving too much away for those who haven’t read it yet) on the surface it might seem like there's not much comfort and joy to be found within the story. It's the vivid descriptions of what the little match girl sees that icy evening and the promise of hope even when things seem like they can’t possibly get any bleaker that make this a beautiful story that's moved readers for well over a century.

You can find a link to this story at: www.online-literature.com

The Legend of the Christmas Spider

If I mention the word “spiders”, I’ll bet you a million dollars that the first holiday you think of is one that involves pumpkins and costumes, not one with evergreen trees and gift-wrapped presents. But in this folktale that has its roots in the Ukraine and Germany, spiders are the unlikely stars of this legend.

Curious about a special visitor that the mother of the house has spent all day preparing for, the timid spiders unwittingly make Christmas a little more festive for the family they live with when they go exploring later that night. I’ve never been a fan of spiders, but for the well-meaning arachnids in this story, I'll make an exception.

You can find a link at: www.kraftmstr.com

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

I can’t say that I’ve saved the best for last, since I chose all of the stories here because there was something in them that made me want to share their bits of magic. If one shines just a tiny bit brighter though, like the star atop a Christmas tree, it would have to be The Gift of the Magi, a story that both captivated me and broke my heart since I first read it, many, many years ago. 

Introduced to Della and Jim, a young married couple, on the day before Christmas, readers follow Della as she struggles to get the perfect gift for her husband. Things quickly turn into a bittersweet comedy of errors when she gives Jim his present, and she unwraps the one that he's gotten for her. Without revealing too much here, I'll just say that, to me, it embodies the very meaning of the season: selflessness and giving that is done out of love.

You can find a link to this story at: www.eastoftheweb.com

No matter what holidays you might celebrate, peace and joy to you and yours. What are some of your favorite winter tales?