Have Yourself a Literary Christmas

  • By Tara Laskowski
  • December 11, 2017

Why stories make the Yuletide gay...


I have to admit, I kind of love the idea of exchanging books on Christmas Eve and spending the whole night reading. In pajamas. With a fire.

Iceland's Christmas Eve tradition, Jolabokaflod, or the Book Flood, is doing life right, in my opinion. One quiet night reading seems like a great respite from the overwhelming to-dos that fill the holiday season. If eggnog's your thing, you could even sip some while turning pages.

While we don't fully celebrate Jolabokaflod, my husband, Art, and I have had a tradition of reading aloud a short story each Christmas Eve after the kiddo goes to bed (and before Santa comes). The story we read isn't always holiday-related, but it's often a fun challenge to find one that is (see Art's column from last year).

Actually, telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve is a long-forgotten Victorian tradition that would be amazing to bring back. We discovered the delightful Seth's Christmas Ghost Stories series last year, put out by Biblioasis, and will be reading Edith Wharton's Afterward this year on Christmas Eve. The books are really beautiful and would make great stocking stuffers.

Just sayin'.

But why wait until Christmas Eve to satisfy that short-story craving? This year, Art gifted me the Short Story Advent Calendar, published by Hingston and Olsen in Alberta, Canada. This is the third year that they've produced the calendar, and each year they keep outdoing themselves.

The stories are published in tiny individual pamphlets that are sealed and numbered, so you get to be surprised each day to open the new one and discover what it is. This year's advent calendar so far has featured writers Laird Hunt and Carmen Maria Machado, and we're also promised stories by Kelly Link and Maggie Shipstead as the month progresses.

In addition, Hingston and Olsen posts an interview with the authors each day, so once you've read the story, you can find out a little bit about the author and his or her vision for the story. There's also a hashtag on Twitter (#ssac17) if you wanted to chat about the stories with fellow readers.

Of course, if you want to involve the kids in a literary holiday tradition, I've heard of a neat homemade advent calendar you can do with the whole family. Scour your local library book sale for inexpensive holiday books, or just check out some new ones at the library (make sure you're aware of the due dates, though!)

You can also use holiday books you already own. Once you've gathered enough for all 24 days through Christmas Eve (or the last 12 days of Christmas), wrap the books up in newspaper or leftover paper from last year, and then each night let your kids pick a "book present," unwrap it, and read it that night at bedtime.

The holidays are also a great time to survey your bookshelves to see if there are any books to donate. Libraries are great places to send those books to, or you could donate your old books to a literacy charity, a children's hospital or doctor's office, or nonprofits that work with kids.

I also like to buy a children's book to go along with my Toys for Tots donation. (Although one year I tried to donate a new hardcover Harry Potter book and the woman collecting the toys almost didn't take it!)

The holidays are a great time to incorporate your love of reading — and make traditions and memories, as well. Let me know your favorite reading-related holiday tradition! I need some ideas for next year!

Tara Laskowski is the author of the short-story collection Bystanders, which was recently named by Jennifer Egan as one of the best books of the year. She is also the author of Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons, tales of dark etiquette.

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