It’s this fact that makes the plight of Meg Hobart, suddenly impoverished just before Christmas all the more poignant. At a time when she should be celebrating the perfect life she thought she led, she finds it has slipped through her fingers, and Christmas simply makes it all the more painful. She has to return home to her parents, her marriage in tatters, her children resentful, and ends up stranded in Pennsylvania after a car accident. How much worse can things get?
Well, of course, they don’t. Yes life is still bleak but, taken in by the Amish, with their traditions of simplicity and hard work, Meg and her family re-discover what really matters, which is naturally forgiveness and love. Obviously this won’t appeal to everyone but you can understand why this sort of book is selling brilliantly. Put simply it offers hope that things can get better, and it trades on the idea that if it can’t happen at Christmas then when can it happen?
Skipping Christmas – John Grisham
The Kranks on the other hand, who are a family that decides to eschew the rampant commercialisation of Christmas for a Caribbean cruise. They are running as far from the schmaltz as they can. They farewell their daughter on her two-year assignment with the American Peace Corps, and look forward to ignoring Christmas altogether.
But naturally the best laid plans goes awry and, when their daughter announces she will be home for Christmas after all, they are forced to make a decision about which kind of Christmas they will celebrate. The traditional gift-laden one where not decorating your home is a neighbourhood sin, or the one where Christmas barely exists at all? John Grisham handles this dilemma with surprising comic ease, and you will laugh out loud as the Kranks attempt to untangle themselves from the morass of festive expectations that is the modern celebration.
The joy of the book is that it doesn’t trash Christmas, or the reasons we love it, but questions with delicious clarity whether we have taken things too far, and lost the very essence of what it is we loved about the holiday?
Holidays on Ice – David SedarisRegarded by many as America’s pre-eminent humourist, David Sedaris casts a withering eye over Christmas and finds it wanting, in his re-packaged holiday memoir collection, which also includes some short stories. His greatest strength is his love of subtle irony with which he dissects many of America’s holiday traditions with surgical precision. For instance his recounting of his time spent as an elf at Macy’s in the “Santaland Diaries” deftly shows how many people are so intent on ‘celebrating’ the traditions that they lose track of what it is they’re celebrating. As a commentary on the excesses of the American Christmas tradition, and by extension, American society itself, it is without peer.
But what sets this book apart are the essays on family life such as the one where he recounts meeting the Çhristmas whore, a woman who somehow ended up in the Sedaris’s kitchen one festive season and was treated as reverently as Santa himself by a wide-eyed David and his siblings. It’s this recounting of his family’s experiences of Christmas placed side-by-side with his sometimes scathing accounts of Yuletide excess that give this book its unique take on Christmas.
I found it sentimental at times, plain snarky at others but always hilarious and it helps you to appreciate that Christmas, while possessing many lovely attributes, also hides a great deal of crap underneath its shimmering tinsel skirts.
I think it’s safe to say that, just like the movie and music industries before it, that the publishing industry will not be a fickle Christmas lover, and you can expect bookstores to be overflowing with even more of these books next year.
Ain’t festive love (and the profits it brings) grand?