Where is the silence this season? With four kids, holiday schedules that include more events not less for myself and my spouse, presents, plans, a baby due at the end of January, where is the stillness?
My mind whirls without reflection. The meditative booklets are reduced to one. I am paring down, contemplating a few handwritten notes instead of a flurry of Christmas photo cards, putting the hold button on any more decorating.
When my internal pace slows down, it is time for comfort watching and reading, sitting beside the Christmas tree, its soft glow and silver bells jingled by a mischievous kitten and kid. The familiar helps me read the silence and stillness needed to keep a modern family going in a busy world.
For some, comfort reads are cozy mysteries; for others, they are from the Jane Austen canon. Comfort watching might be black-and-white classics like The Shop Around the Corner and Miracle on 34th Street, modern charmers like Elf, or formula-followers like the Hallmark line-up.
A comfort read is a book that does not challenge the reader too much. Its writing is familiar; its characters lovable; its villains recognizable. We walk away with a sense of hope, security, or having spent time with old friends. The rain may fall with thunder outside the window, but inside, the cozy read is the sense that it will be okay, if only for that moment.
My literary line-up this month
The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens
A relatively short and lesser-known piece. In it, we are introduced to a couple so clearly beloved by the author, it is difficult not to love them immediately. Their intentions are so good, their love so pure, their joy so merry. Through them, we meet other, more troubled characters. Those with heartache find joy; the villain meets a quick conversion, and all is well while the cricket (a guardian angel or benevolent spirit) chirps away on the hearth.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
A very, very well known and delightful short during a busy season. After reading Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities in high school, Dickens may seem woefully unappealing to many, but A Christmas Carol represents all the good things about his writing. He loves his characters, and in his humor, you are inspired to love them as well. His pieces are all action, with minimal description, enough description, say, to guide a director in a movie in casting his characters and setting his scene. If you have watched any of the adaptations and then read the book, you will find all those quotable moments beautifully drawn.
I appreciate the scenes I have not seen represented in the movies. They deepen the characters and the regret of Scrooge. While the conversion in Cricket on the Hearth is too swift to be believable, Scrooge’s conversion comes in the stages natural to human life. We need more than one encounter with grace to inspire us to go from living for ourselves to living for others. Scrooge has three.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
is a comfort read for many a feminine reader. The events may feel foreign, young women who have a servant and house, struggling financially while their father is at war. But, the simplicity and charity in these women are what we hope most to find in those we know and love. It represents the relationships we would like our children to have, the mothers we women would like to be, the neighborhood interactions we dream about.
Their family meets deep sorrow. It is not a children’s book, but a book for adults and older children that still retains its innocence. In a world where mainstream television no longer holds this, the offering of something safe that still feels real, is most welcome.
There are many other works from other cultures and other times. These are the three I am reading this December, along with a host of picture books from the library and our Christmas collection.
It passes the raining days, brightens the darkened windows, and helps me slow down enough to remember what this season is supposed to be about.