Arts & Culture

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen: Literature’s Christmas

      One of my favorite family Christmas traditions is distinctly literary. Each year on Christmas Eve, my sister and I look forward to receiving the same three presents: an ornament, a pair of fleecy Christmas pajamas, and a Christmas book. We always end up in a cozy nook, enjoying our new book as well as favorites from previous years.

      What follows are three of my favorite literary portrayals of Christmas time I have encountered over the years. Consider taking a moment amid the hustle and bustle of this Christmas season to enjoy one or all of these fantastic books.

The Wind in the Willows, Dolce Domum (Ch. 5) – Kenneth Grahame

      Soon after best friends Mole and Ratty settle down by Mole’s fire, exhausted from journeying through the bitter December cold, a chorus of young field mice arrives at their door singing wonderful Christmas carols. Although he is delighted that they remembered to visit home, Mole despairs when he realizes he has nothing in his larder to offer them. Ratty takes matters into his own hands and sends one of the mice into town for supplies, managing to cobble together a respectable feast. Through quick thinking and his jolly disposition, he transforms a potentially awkward situation into a cozy party. Grahame’s writing style is marvelously descriptive – it’s easy to feel as if you’re seated right inside Mole’s parlor.

Image: The Tolkien Estate Ltd 1976

Letters from Father Christmas – J. R. R. Tolkien

      Each December, J. R. R. Tolkien composed brilliantly illustrated letters from Father Christmas to his four children. Rather hastily penning a response to his children’s wish list, Tolkien wrote as Father Christmas telling humorous stories about failed firework launches, goblins stirring up trouble in arctic caves, and his friend Polar Bear smashing the moon, sending the Man in it tumbling to earth. Each year Father Christmas manages to overcome all obstacles in order to deliver presents by Christmas Day. The letters were published in 1976 as one book for families around the world to enjoy. As with most of Tolkien’s work, the letters are clever and meticulously crafted, and the illustrations add a new level of wonder to each story.

Image: Columbia Pictures

Little Women, Playing Pilgrims & A Merry Christmas (Ch. 1-2) – Louisa May Alcott

      While struggling to make ends meet as their father serves as a chaplain in the Civil War, the March sisters find it especially difficult to be cheerful during Christmas time when they are surrounded by the glittering trees and extravagant gifts of their neighbors. In a memorable scene, they discover that their mother left early Christmas morning to care for the struggling Hummel family nearby, and choose to follow their mother’s kindhearted example by giving their entire Christmas meal to the Hummels. In a (not so) surprising turn of events, their own Christmas celebrations become all the more joyful in spite of their lack of turkey and stuffing.

       While each story found on this list is unique in its setting and plot, they all share the common theme of rest and merriment, no matter what the circumstances. Father Christmas cheerfully muddles through many misadventures in order to share gifts with children around the world, the March sisters generously give their own hard-earned Christmas meal away, and Mole and Ratty provide a joyous atmosphere in which to welcome the field mice to share in an impromptu feast. As these stories demonstrate, Christmas is a fundamentally joyful event, especially for Christians who find rest and joy in the birth of their savior, and are tasked with spreading this joy to everyone around them. The opening verse of the carol ‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’ sums this idea up best:

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ our Savior
Was born on Christmas Day
To save us all from Satan’s pow’r
When we were gone astray
Oh tidings of comfort and joy.

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