Suggested Christmas Comfort Reads

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

The Cricket on the Hearth cover

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 Christmas Carol Cover

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

Little Women Cover

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.

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch Weekly Column “Here’s to the Good Life!”

Together on Christmas Day

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch




I steal away for a few moments to write these words between the flickering of the tree lights, the sound of a four-year-old yelling “puddles!”, and the slam of the door as she escapes. The toddler slams his favorite step stool around the office, determined to involve himself in my activities. As soon as I begin a new activity, the sick six-year-old pleads for his ear drops. In the midst of it all, I pause in the excitement of a husband home from work on vacation, the promise of days, parties and devotions yet to come.

“Breakfast is almost ready; don’t get too wet!” he yells through the window to the children I do not dare see in this state. I want to write. I want to pursue the passion and dream that feeds my soul.

I like to watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It is not a show I recommend to everyone due to some content and a lot of bad language, but it explores themes we rarely see considered in modern media surrounding women, their art, and their personal lives. The second season circled around the question, to fully give yourself to your art, must you lose everything else? Ultimately the creators of the program decide, yes, you cannot have it all, you must give up your commitment to others in your life, the last semblance of normalcy you possessed to move within the circles of civilians. It is artfully done, and I look forward to the following season to see the fallout of such a decision because, in the end, I disagree.

Aristotle told us in Politics, “man is by nature a political animal.” Political in this sense means men and women develop their potential and realize their natural end in a social context. That is the good life to which the title of this column refers.

The Catholic Christian Meta hold that human beings are interpersonally related and this is integral to who we are.

“No man is an island entire itself,” said the poet and preacher John Donne, “every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

And even more seasonally, Jacob Marley exclaims in response to Scrooge’s excuse for Marley’s indifference to others’ wellbeing while he lived, “Mankind was my business!”

Why does this season matter so much to others? Not everyone believes in Jesus or God or Christianity. Yet it is so widely celebrated and loved.

I have thought long about the sensory aspects. Nostalgia wisps in the air at the sights and sounds of Christmas: twinkling lights, cinnamon-scented candles, peppermint mochas, and in Hughson, N’Sync and the honk of a fire engine horn.

Ask the average person on the street and most will tell you this is the time of year to look out for the little guy, to be together, to care about each other.

The man collecting donations for charity tells our famous Mr. Scrooge, “At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time…We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.”

Christians celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus, not merely a man, but God Incarnate. It marks the change in salvation history, the moment when God entered time to save men and women from their sins, opening the gates of Heaven. It is the moment that begins the journey of the All-Powerful telling the lowly, you are worth the time, the sacrifice, the pain.

You matter. You are not alone. You are not forgotten.

Thus the message of togetherness rings through the season, with all its chaos, to-do lists, cooking making, present wrapping, leading up to Christmas day. If you celebrate this time of year, mark the meaning for you, hold onto the moments, allow yourself to miss this who are no longer here, recall their presence, tell their stories. Christmas comes by once a year.


Merry Christmas.