The story of Christ’s birth and the events surrounding it stirs our souls for many reasons, one of which is that his miraculous birth makes our own miraculous birth possible:
“And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7).
Literature has many wonderful Christmas stories that echo the spirit, love, delight, joy, and hope of the birth of our Savior. But, of course, not all the circumstances of Christ’s birth were sweetness and light. The region was under brutal Roman occupation, and Herod had all children two years old and under, in Bethlehem and the surrounding area, slaughtered (see Matt. 2:16). Likewise, some of the best fiction and non-fiction stories we associate with Christmas are set in difficult and threatening circumstances, out of which one or more characters is renewed or reborn, finding new light, hope, and resolve.
Like the story of Christ’s birth itself, we can “liken [these stories] unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Ne. 19:23). Here are overviews of five stories associated with Christmas (not all of them are set at Christmas or even mention Christ) in which one or more of the characters, miraculously or not, finds “light in a dark place”—a shining star, a blessed rebirth:
- “The Water Bus,” by Agatha Christie Mallowan. In this short story, Queen of Crime author Agatha Christie serves up—not the expected foul crime—but a subtle healing of the soul. As with all good mystery stories, the question is: Who dunnit?
The main character here, Mrs. Hargreaves, is no Scrooge. She is “a woman of high principle and a religious woman, and she knew very well that one ought to love one’s fellow creatures. But she didn’t find it easy—and sometimes she found it downright impossible. . . . She was willing to be just, kind, fair, and charitable to people, so long as she did not have to see, hear, or touch them.” Ever felt that way? We join good Mrs. Hargreaves in several encounters that demonstrate the “something missing” in her arms-length kindness and charity. Not surprisingly, the ending will surprise you.
- “Angels and Other Strangers,” by Katherine Patterson. “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2). Two urgent Christmas Eve journeys intertwine in this feel-good short story. Julia and her two young children, while driving in a heavy snowstorm to pick up her husband’s elderly aunt in the remote countryside, run out of gas and are stranded. Julia fears for their safety, but she feels even more threatened when 60-year-old Jacob—a poor man who is walking on the same highway to get help to his daughter—offers to walk to the gas station several miles away to get gas.
Happily, Julia overcomes her fear and prejudice, but it is her young son, Kevin, who really perceives the simple truth about this stranger: Kevin invites Jacob to be the Christmas angel in the church service they are driving to. But this angel has another rescue to take care of.
- “The Christmas Gift: A Memory of Stalingrad,” by Joan Coons. It’s Christmas Eve in Russia in World War II. Six-year-old Nadia, daughter of “the great Russian flyer Petrovich,” wants to help the Christ Child find his way to the cold shack where her deceased grandmother lies, so that he can take her soul to heaven. Nadia naively accepts a treacherous gift from a stranger, whose perfect Russian language skills hide his real identity as German soldier. But Nadia’s simple faith and love thwart the soldier’s clever scheme to kill her father.
- “A Christmas Gift of Music, Long Ago,” by Hans Fantel (The New York Times, December 21, 1980). In this true story, also set on Christmas Eve in World War II, but in a tiny town in the mountains of German-occupied Slovakia, Fantel tells of the blessed gift of phonograph music he received while he was in hiding in 1940. The “ancient and rather ramshackle phonograph” with a brass horn had to be hand-cranked, but Fantel was able to hear the beloved Beethoven violin concerto.
“As I turned the crank,” writes Fantel, “it set in motion engines of war all over the world that threw back and cut down the armies of the enemy.” When Fantel died in 2006, The New York Times quoted him: “Phonographs . . . admit no ending. . . . In the perennial rebirth of music through recordings, something of life itself steps over the normal limits of time” (May 26, 2006).
- A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. As we accompany Ebenezer Scrooge through his long night of involuntary confrontations with the selfishness of his shackled soul, we might reflect on some of our own self-centered traits that shackle us; we might recall, with Scrooge, situations in which we might have been more charitable.
Likewise, we thrill with Scrooge when, at daybreak, he is fully repentant and reborn: “‘I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!’ Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. ‘The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! . . . He was so fluttered and so glowing with his good intentions, that his broken voice would scarcely answer to his call. He had been sobbing violently in his conflict with the Spirit, and his face was wet with tears.’”
Scrooge follows through admirably on his good intentions: “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. . . . It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!”
And just for fun, check out “A Hint for Next Christmas,” by A.A. Milne, of Winnie the Pooh fame.