Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: American Christmas Stories


Last year I purchased an anthology of Christmas short stories from The Library of America Collection, titled American Christmas Stories, edited by Connie Willis. There are 59 short stories which have been selected from a variety of genres. The stories were published between 1872 and 2004.

I wanted to sample stories from a variety of time periods, so I started with the first four stories in the book, published between 1872 and 1883.

  • Bret Harte, "How Santa Claus Came to Simpson’s Bar"
  • Louisa May Alcott, "Kate’s Choice"
  • Mark Twain, "A Letter from Santa Claus"
  • J. B. Moore Bristor, "Found After Thirty-Five Years—Lucy Marshall’s Letter"

Alcott's "Kate's Choice" is about a 15-year-old girl who has been orphaned. Her father wanted her to live with one of her uncles after his death; all of them have a family with children near her age. She has never met any of these families because she lived in England and they were in the US. Kate is allowed to choose which family because her father was rich and she has lots of money. However, Kate wants to meet her grandmother before making a decision. The story is very readable and I enjoyed it, but it is sentimental and everyone was too perfect. 

The story  by J. B. Moore Bristor, "Found After Thirty-Five Years—Lucy Marshall’s Letter", was very interesting. It is described as a true story. It is about a black man who was a slave and separated from his mother when he was a child. Many years later, he had tried to find out if she was alive, with no results. A white woman volunteers to help him find out about his mother or any additional family. She writes some letters to ministers of churches in the area where he lived with his mother.

The next set of stories I read were published from 1903 to 1909: 

  • O. Henry, "A Chaparral Christmas Gift"
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "According to Solomon"
  • Edward Lucas White, "The Picture Puzzle"

My favorite in this set was "The Picture Puzzle", which was a somewhat fantastical story of a couple whose very young daughter is kidnapped. When she is not returned, they end up consoling themselves by working on picture puzzles together.

This story was first published in Lukundoo and other Stories by Edward Lucas White in 1927. It was most recently published in a Dover edition of The Stuff of Dreams: The Weird Stories of Edward Lucas White. "The Picture Puzzle" and other stories in that book are discussed at Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, & Creased.

Then I wanted to read some stories from the 1980's. Both of these are very good.

Cynthia Felice's "Track of a Legend" is a science fiction story about two kids looking forward to their Christmas presents. They also share a belief in Bigfoot and believe he lives nearby. 

Ed McBain's "And All Through the House" is an 87th Precinct story. As it opens, Steve Carella is on his own in the squad room a little before midnight on Christmas Eve. Soon various detectives come in with people they have arrested for minor crimes, including a very pregnant woman and her husband who had been arresting for living in an abandoned building. 

I still have many more stories from this book to read. 


pattinase (abbott) said...

If I went to a book sale around this time of year, I would probably pick up a book like this. But they tend to be in early fall or late spring and Christmas seems so remote by then.

Margot Kinberg said...

That's really interesting, Tracy, that there are stories from writers as diverse as Louisa May Alcott and Ed McBain. It sounds as though there's a lot to enjoy here, and I can see this as the sort of book that a person can dip in and out of. Sometimes those are really effective ways to read when time is short or a person needs a break from longer novels.

TracyK said...

Patti, I have several anthologies of Christmas stories that I have accumulated over the last 5 or so years, and I haven't finished most of them. I just read a few from some of the books every year. The problem with books of Christmas stories is they seem to be more variable than most anthologies. This one has the advantage of the stories covering a large span of time and show some of the changes in culture or attitudes over that time.

TracyK said...

Margot, I really didn't know what to expect when I purchased this book online. I am just a sucker for Christmas stories so I could not pass it up.

Diane Kelley said...

I'm going to have to check out AMERICAN CHRISTMAS STORIES. I have a number of Christmas mystery anthologies that I'll be reviewing the next few weeks.

TracyK said...

I know, George, I keep discovering Christmas anthologies that I forgot I had. Including some on the Kindle. I look forward to hearing more about your other anthologies.

neer said...

Seems like a good anthology, Tracy. I esp want to read about the Black man in search of his mother and the parents who solve puzzles. Hope both the stories had a happy ending.

TracyK said...

I like happy endings, Neer. I was surprised to read about people working on puzzles back in the early 1900s, I don't know why I thought it was a more recent pastime.

Cath said...

Loved this post, Tracy and need to do one of my own as I've been reading a few short stories too. Some of them were very good but the ones you've read sound quite different and more interesting somehow. LOL!

TracyK said...

Cath, the stories from the 1800s and the early 1900s are certainly different. In some ways more a picture of the times.

I look forward to hearing about the stories you have read. So far this month, all of my reading has been Christmas novels or short stories. Which I did not expect.

FictionFan said...

Looks like a really varied collection with some great authors! I'll see if it's available over here. I always find Alcott terribly sentimental - too sweet for me. That's partly why I'm afraid to re-read Little Women. I loved it when I was a kid but I'm not sure I still would.

TracyK said...

FictionFan, I read Little Women in December 2020 for my Classics list, and was surprised to find that I enjoyed it. I had read a lot of negative reviews, but I was pleased with it, even at 464 pages.

This short story by Alcott was a bit saccharine, but still a little different from the norm.

Judith said...

Hi Tracy,
I have this very same collection sitting on my nightstand! I have always loved reading Christmas stories and novels in December. So far this year I'm really behind. Would love to read more, but I also have other reading I'd hoped to finish by the end of the year. So glad you're enjoying this collection.

TracyK said...

Judith, sometimes I read Christmas books and short stories in December, sometimes not. This year Christmas reading is my focus this month. I enjoyed the stories I have read so far in this anthology, but I will have plenty more of them to read for future Christmases.