I feel a bit silly, reviewing a collection of Christmas stories at this time of year. Maybe I should save it for December, when it’s a little more seasonal. But this collection by Connie Willis is so much fun that you can really read it any time of the year and still enjoy it. Treat yourself on St. Patrick’s Day, Independence Day, or the Feast of St. Lulu — it doesn’t matter. The pleasure will be the same.
In the introduction, Willis talks about her love of Christmas traditions, and the stories that go with them. The original Christmas story, she says, is one of the most exciting stories in all of history: travel, birth, chase scenes, prophecy, omens, slaughter, despair, and (if you go all the way through Easter) last-minute redemption. She loves A Christmas Carol for its similar story arc (minus the chase scenes and slaughter), and prefers Miracle on 34th Street to It’s a Wonderful Life because in Miracle, the happy ending occurs despite — or even because of — the cynicism of every character except Kris Kringle.
In Willis’s own stories, you can hear echoes of this philosophy. There are spirits, aliens, and hauntings; there are mysterious displacements of time and space; there are questions about what you would do if Mary and Joseph showed up at your church on Christmas Eve. There is love, suspicion, crabbiness, tenderness, business, irritation, and yearning: all the emotion of the season. And yes, there are omens, prophecies, chase scenes, despair, and a vision of a star. But not how you think.
These stories are classic Willis in some ways: thoughtful, unafraid to make you think or squirm, but also funny, unsentimental, and full of the edge of wit. If you have the least inclination to enjoy Christmas stories, these can be read at any time of year, and would be particularly lovely under the lights of the tree.