Santa Claus and the Werewolf Dog

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One of my stranger Christmas finds was during a visit to the Howard County Library in search of cartoons drawn by Al Hirschfeld. I was in the graphic novel section and came across Christmas Classics Volume 19. in addition to the standard Dickens’ Christmas Carol and The Night Before Christmas, this collection had illustrated classic Christmas tales by Willa Cather, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Arthur Conan Doyle.

After I read the book, I came to a number of conclusions. First, I had never heard of these short stories. Since each is written by a famous author, I’m interested to read the full text of the stories. Some of the plot seemed nonsensical in cartoon. Is this because the story itself is lacking or because of the way it is told through art?

Second, I admit I do not know enough about graphic novels. I did not enjoy some of the illustrations because of their different styles. I often skip over the cartoons in the newspaper based on their illustration style, and for me, weird is not necessarily better. I read a review on Amazonand all it did was confirm that I am not the best audience for graphic novels.

Despite my “bah humbug” attitude, the book was an unexpected gem–something worth purchasing and gifting to a young reader who maybe ranks the horror of Halloween above the sugar-coated tales of Christmas. The macabre is refreshing!

“What Christmas is as we Grow Older” by Charles Dickens

Much shorter than his previous story (“A Christmas Tree”), the Christmas story that Charles Dickens published in 1951 is not so much a narrative as it is an exhortation, and from the essay “What Christmas is as we Grow Older” comes the often quoted line:  “Nearer and closer to our hearts be the Christmas spirit, which is the spirit of active usefulness, perseverance, cheerful discharge of duty, kindness and forbearance!”

Interestingly, the essay encourages readers to be thankful for all associations and memories, good and bad.  He writes, “Therefore, as we grow older, let us be more thankful that the circle of our Christmas associations and of the lessons that they bring, expands! Let us welcome every one of them, and summon them to take their places by the Christmas hearth.”  Those who have had grudges or conflict throughout the year must bury that ill will at Christmas.

He asks if there is room for memories of the dead at Christmas time and then goes on to describe, in most beautiful prose, that

Of all days in the year, we will turn our faces towards that City upon Christmas Day, and from its silent hosts bring those we loved, among us. City of the Dead, in the blessed name wherein we are gathered together at this time, and in the Presence that is here among us according to the promise, we will receive, and not dismiss, thy people who are dear to us!

Following this is detailed description of those who are deceased, young and old, lost to sickness or war.

I think of all the negative moments, the stress and complaining that some of us adults do in the Christmas season, and I resolve to return to this essay and its beautiful embrace of life and death to set me on a better path of Christmas cheer.

Reading “A Christmas Tree” by Charles Dickens

Arguably Charles Dickens’ words helped to create the Victorian Christmas as much as any illustrator.

 I mentioned before that the novella, A Christmas Carol, was just the start of his Christmas stories, and for many years, Dickens published a Christmas short story annually in the magazine he edited, Household Words

The first, in 1850, was “A Christmas Tree.”  There are many websites that feature the entire text, one that I have linked here.  The tree takes on magical proportions, as it does in our own homes, especially in the darkened house.  Any plain ornament is transformed in the sparkling lights.

In the story, the narrator imagines the decorations on a Christmas tree and the stories that those decorations inspire.  Early in the story, he describes some of the objects including “real watches (with movable hands, at least, and an endless capacity of being wound up) dangling from innumerable twigs.” 

I was captivated by this idea, and I began to imagine how exciting it would be to have a “time” themed tree next year.  There are so many antique stores and flea markets where I could probably buy some interesting pieces.  Craft stores sell other clock items, too.  (I digress, as usual.)

In the story, the narrator describes several ghosts, including one of a drowned housekeeper who wanders the halls trying her ghostly keys in locks.  She haunts the entire house but also a particular room where there hangs that portrait of the man who jilted her.  Scary ghost stories are part of Victorian Christmas for certain!

I find that reading Dickens aloud is the only way to really appreciate the magnificence of his craft.  People who had to read Dickens in high school (remember Great Expectations or Tale of Two Cities?) often have negative memories of his difficult syntax, but they missed the humor of the characterization that comes with reading aloud.

My next personal challenge is to read all of Dickens’ Christmas short stories.  It would be a great tradition to read one aloud each Christmas!

In the short story, he writes this beautiful passage: 

And I do come home at Christmas. We all do, or we all should. We all come home, or ought to come home, for a short holiday, the longer, the better, from the great boarding-school, where we are for ever working at our arithmetical slates, to take, and give a rest. As to going a visiting, where can we not go, if we will; where have we not been, when we would; starting our fancy from our Christmas Tree!

Disney does Christmas films too.

This marks my first post from outside Maryland since we began the Yule Log.  I figure since I am visiting Walt Disney World this week I should be looking at the connections between the mouse and the holiday.  Easiest place to start is in that famous Disney vault to see what films and animated treasures are hiding waiting to be found.  There are many but not as many as I thought I would find.  There are those that just take a popular character or story and twist it to Christmas like Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas.  There are the ones I bet you didn’t connect with Disney including The Santa Clause and The Muppet Christmas Carol (yes, the Muppets are Disney’s too).  I found two that I think you should add to your own Disney collection.

The first is a rare find, not yet released on DVD.  A Walt Disney Christmas is a 1982 VHS released collection of six short films from Disney Studios.  The oldest from 1932 shows elves busy trying to finish the toys before Christmas.  A gem from 1954 follows a young couple out ice skating joined by a pair of rabbits.  There’s a selection from the Silly Symphonies collection, Pluto being teased by Chip and Dale, and even Minnie & Mickey enjoying some winter sports.  The last of the collection is a snowball battle between Donald and his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie.  I hope Disney will decide to release this great collection on DVD so I can pick it up and send it to my nieces and nephews.

The second find is the 1984 Academy Award nominated animated short film Mickey’s Christmas Carol.  This marked Mickey’s first Academy nod since 1948!  The film casts Mickey in the lead role of Dicken’s classic tale.  Scrooge McDuck is obviously Ebeneezer Scrooge.  This film was a big happening for the mouse.  His first new film since the 50s.  It was an instant holiday favorite and continues to be popular with children of all ages.  The tale cast other Disney favorites too, including Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Jiminy Cricket, Donald and Daisy Duck, and Mr. Toad.  More recently the film is often packaged with other Disney holiday fare, including Winnie the Pooh.  Look carefully and find your copy today.