In this season of mistrust, going to door-to-door singing carols might not bode well, but does that mean you should shy away from knowing more about the true spirit of Christmas? Surely not. If you are young (or, young at heart), here are some delightful stories/poems that go beyond classics such as Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and Dr Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas to give you a glimpse of what Christmas has to offer to all — cheer, compassion, hope, and who knows, perhaps, a shot at redemption:
British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy has a series of poems on Christmas to suit every mood: If the Twelve Days of Christmas (2009) is a sombre look at what ails Britain, Mrs Scrooge (2008) is an irreverent take on the Dickens classic. A personal favourite is Another Night Before Christmas (2010), a delightful poem (appropriate for 10+) about a young girl determined to stay awake on Christmas Eve to see for herself if Santa is real.
Magic comes to those who believe in it, or so JRR Tolkien, the author of the masterful The Lord of the Rings trilogy, would have his children believe. From 1920, shortly after he returned from World War I, Tolkien set a unique Christmas tradition. Every year, a letter would arrive for his four children from “Cliff House, Top of the World, Near the North Pole” in which, Father Christmas would talk about his life in the North Pole, his struggles with the bat-riding goblins, the perks and woes of being who he is. A delightful treat for the young and the old, the letters, which Tolkien wrote and illustrated, continued for well over two decades and were released on his third death anniversary as The Father Christmas Letters (1976).
What happens when Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, Santa’s fleet-footed sleigh-puller, gets flu a day before Christmas? There’s only one way to salvage the situation: by enlisting the help of Rover, the dog with “a brain the size of Africa tucked into a head the size of a baked potato”. Roddy Doyle’s romp of a novel, Roger Saves Christmas (2011) has all the things that appeal to children (appropriate for 8+): bathroom humour, Harry Potter and irreverence. What’s not to like?
All Lucinda ever wanted was to help her mother finish the blanket for the altar of Baby Jesus in the church when she fell ill. But when she accidentally ruins it, Lucinda does not know how to face up to the disappointment. The Legend of the Poinsettia (1993) by Tomie dePaola is a re-telling of a Mexican folklore on the virtue of forgiveness and why the largesse of a gift is directly proportionate to the generosity of spirit of the giver. The Frieda Kahlo-esque illustrations are an added incentive to grab this book appropriate for very young readers (4-7).
Illustrator PJ Lynch won the Kate Greenway medal for his work on Susan Wojciechowski’s The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey (1995) and indeed, if ever there was a modern-day picture book classic on Christmas, it has to be this story of a wood-carver, the best in the business, whose grieving soul will not allow him to rejoice. How he is healed is the story of this heartwarming book, appropriate for 5-7 year olds.