Monday, December 14, 2015

The Christmas Post (A Week Early)

Leave it to Charles Dickens to write a ghost story involving Christmas.

I have read winter ghost stories, some of them absolutely horrifying. A particular Japanese one that was included in my sister's Freshman Literature Anthology comes to mind. There is something really grisly and yet fascinating about a vengeful ghost in winter, leaving droplets of blood on the fresh snow after decapitating its victim. (I don't know the author, but if you're really interested, try looking for a pair of stories entitled respectively, "A Promise Kept" and "A Promise Broken." They had excellent translations, but I no longer have my sister's textbook so I can't give you more details than that.)

I've even written something that functions basically as a winter ghost story. It's title is Dead Voices and of course I encourage everyone and their brother to read it.

But an actual Christmas ghost story is a beast of a different color altogether. Christmas is the sweetest holiday on the calendar in most Western cultures, and somehow Santa Claus, Christmas trees, gingerbread men, and wrapped-and-ribboned presents don't match up very well with the spirits of the dead.

Or do they?

Dickens was probably right to cast his ghosts as teachers, some friendly, others not so much, but all of them working to save the soul of Ebenezer Scrooge. Along Scrooge's journey to salvation, there was room for pity and real poignancy, from the basis of Scrooge's turn for the miserly worst to the heart-wrenching tale of Tiny Tim. There are sad incidents, funny moments, scary vignettes, and at the end of it all, an ending far happier than should have been allowed and yet works so much better than any bleak or tragic denouement could ever. I have since read that Dickens was not all that nice a guy, but when it came to writing stories that could affect the coldest heart, the man was brilliant. Especially at Christmas time.

Where am I going with this? Dickens is certainly not the only one who has found sadness in the holiday season. He is not the only one to juxtapose hope with loss, and sadness with fierce joy. But he probably did it better than almost anyone. Certainly, he exceeds anyone I can think of, and it's because he was able to frame and then put into words the sadness, fear of loss, and hopeful joy that I think a great many of us feel around Christmas and the New Year. Fast away the old year passes indeed, taking with it all the sorrows and losses and joys we may have felt over those twelve months, and leaving us to face the unknown of the future. Scary stuff. But hopeful.

So at this time I would wish a happy, happy holiday to everyone who reads this blog and maybe even my books. I hope the New Year brings happiness, if 2015 was a difficult year, and I hope it brings even more joy if 2015 was not so bad after all. I wish you all health and fun and some really good stuff under the tree. And I wish you all peace.

"God bless us, every one."

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