Christmas Crackers: literature that defines the festive season

We asked three of our writers which piece of literature most defined Christmas for them and found a mixture of poetry and one very popular novel, which has recently been adapted for the screen, were their top picks…

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Ange Mlinko’s poem, ‘This is the Latest’ is by no means a traditional Christmas poem; baby Jesus in a manger is supplanted by a lobster in a bathtub. Deceptively playful, Mlinko creates a Christmas poem that does not revolve around a turkey dinner but around the crustacean – wrapping presents becomes an affair that mimics the ‘repeated segments of a carapace’, whilst the ‘pilot blue’ nametags are reminiscent of ‘Haemocyanin – / a blood based in copper’. It is after all, a modern Christmas, as bouillabaisse brews in the pot ‘under the Star of / Bethlehem’, for in its eclecticism, it is as if the reader is peeking into a flat in the Vieux Carré of New Orleans as they smell ‘the broth of something Provençal’. 

We are left scrabbling for a morsel of an unintelligible life

The final two stanzas tease back to the title of the poem, ‘the universe is – this is the latest – / bouncing between inflation and shrinkage’ as if on a glib news reel of the year in review. The reader is caught off-guard as allusions to a Christlike ‘infant’s sobbing’ are dropped as quickly as the ingredients for a soup are picked up; we are left scrabbling for a morsel of an unintelligible life in the bubbles of a ‘briny speech stream’, as if to say next year, we should probably opt for frozen poultry instead.

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It has got to be Little Women, including all its sequels. I remember re-reading this novel every year before Christmas back in primary school and junior high years. The story of the four March sisters is simply so heart-warming and gives such a fuzzy, cosy feeling that I couldn’t find a better book for Christmas family gatherings.

You may read it as a snapshot of nineteenth-century New England and Puritan life, or as a proto-feminist novel, or some others find that the book’s story is richer than a first glance may suggest. But probably most importantly, it is a novel about the bonds between family and between friends, about growing up, and about love in every sense. 

It taught the twelve-year-old me that the world is not perfect, everyone has weaknesses and makes mistakes, misfortune may fall on good people, your dreams may not come true and everyone may not love you. Nevertheless, we should (and we can) accept these challenges, shoulder our responsibilities, carry on loving the people around us and the world we live in, and put out talents to good use. Those lessons are still valid for me today as well as for its billions of readers.

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The book that defines Christmas for me is Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. The book opens with the iconic line: “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.”, and while the book is set over a large period of time, Christmas acts as a marker of stability throughout. 

While the wintery scenes are wonderful to snuggle up with when the nights get cold, the sense of home that the book inspires is what truly makes me crave it at Christmas. From falling through a frozen lake while ice skating, to family reunions, to sharing Christmas breakfast with those who need it, the setting of the book is both literally and figuratively a warm shelter from the outside world. 

The sense of home that the book inspires is what truly makes me crave it at Christmas

This goes for me too: Alcott’s familiar narration through her world makes me feel like home in a way that only a book can. Finally, spending time with the characters whose experiences and faults helped me through my childhood and was so influential to my character, does me good to reflect upon as I look to the next year.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

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