It’s nearly Christmas, which means it’s time for annual traditions, which means I’m reading Kristy’s Queer Christmas by Olive Thorne Miller again (published in 1904, so of course before the word queer’s later 20th century definition expansion).

There’s apparently a reprint available now, with a horrible cover. The original hardback is much prettier, and many thanks to my mother for tracking down a copy for me years & years ago. (She wasn’t going to give me her copy…)

It begins:

The way Kristy came to have a queer Christmas at all, was this: she had been very ill at her grandmother’s, and though she tried her best, and the good doctor tried his best, she could not get well enough to go home for Christmas.

This was a great grief, of course, for all the girls were having fine times in town, Christmas trees and all sorts of festive doings, and Kristy thought so much about it all and felt so bad about it that the doctor began to shake his head again.

So Mamma told Kristy that she might plan anything she liked, to celebrate the day, and if it were possible, she should have her way.

This was a capital idea of Mamma’s…

Kristy invites a whole range of people, aunts and uncles and family friends for a party, and once she is enthroned in the kitchen in the sick-chair “covered with a gay chintz comfortable, and furnished with pillows and everything to make it as nice as a bed” she demands that each guest in turn tell a story.

A chorus of “Oh’s” in tones of dismay came from the circle, followed by such remarks as “That’s too bad of the little witch!” and “I never could tell a story in my life!” But Mamma rapped on the fire-dogs for silence […] “Each one shall tell of the oddest, most miserable or most agreeable Christmas he ever knew about.”

I’ve always loved story-within-a-story books. First Kristy’s grandmother tells a story of a blizzard-ruined, or nearly-ruined Christmas on the prairie when she was a selfish young girl. Then Uncle Tom tells of “A Droll Santa Claus.” Fourteen stories in all, each with an unusual, unexpected, unplanned Christmas (“How A Bear Brought Christmas,” for instance) that winds up bringing out the best in people. Which is at the heart of most Christmas books, I guess.

Another Christmas read I enjoy is David Grayson’s A Day of Pleasant Bread (published 1910). The narrator, the husband in the story, has on Christmas morning “a peculiar sense of expected pleasure. It seemed certain to me that something unusual and adventurous was about to happen—and if it did not happen off-hand, why, I was there to make it happen!’ It’s a very short, cheery tale of a couple whose cousins can’t come for Christmas dinner, and, finding that there are no currently poor people in their little village, they invite the millionaire neighbors and the Scotch Preacher for dinner instead.

I said, “I am now going over to invite the Starkweathers. I heard a rumor that their cook has left them and I expect to find them starving in their parlour. Of course they’ll be haughty and proud, but I’ll be tactful, and when I go away I’ll casually leave a diamond tiara in the front hall.”

“What is the matter with you this morning?” [said his wife, Harriet]

“Christmas,” I said.

Other favorites of mine: The Story of Holly and Ivy (can’t beat ‘children who wish for dolls and dolls who wish to be given to children’ stories). The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, of course. Any of Jan Brett‘s lovely winter books. And, always, A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Though it is a tad dated now, I still love Click and Clack’s “A Car Talk Carol” (oh those Scroogiozzi Brothers, and Tiny Ira, and Codrescu’s Spirit of Public Radio Future.) And, since that’s quite a lot of wholesome, heartwarming Christmasness at one go, The Ref is a yearly one too.