Genre for the Holidays – Christmas Magic

December 5, 2012 at 1:44 am (fantasy, writing) (, , , , , , , , , )

Face it – Christmas and fantasy go together. There’s no stretching required to bring the holiday together with the genre like there might be with sci-fi or horror (although I love The Nightmare Before Christmas). Christmas tradition is awash with fantasy, everything from flying reindeer to elves, talking snowmen to incredible one-night sleigh rides around the world. The most moving Christmas stories I’ve read, however, don’t tread fully over that line but present a “maybe”, tiptoeing carefully along it.

Two of the best known, well-loved (at least by me) Christmas tales are poignant stories littered with a mixture of emotions including angst, pleasure, regret, love and loss. Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” may present the readers with ghosts, spirits, and trips through time and space, but all of these things happen at night, rousing the protagonist from his sleep, and there is always the possibility that everything that happens to Ebeneezer during the story is nothing more than troubled dreams brought on by regret, guilt and loneliness. In Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Match Girl”, the wondrous scenes she sees upon lighting the matches might be Christmas magic to grant her a few moments of joy before her short life comes to an end, or delusions brought on by the fact that her hunger and the cold are slowly killing her – grim and sad.

I’ve tried my own hand at one of these stories, not yet published, and I’m hoping I’ve hit the mark by walking that fantasy line (is it real, or is it magic?) In it, a young girl grieving the loss of her family to divorce makes a brief connection with an elderly neighbour who has lost his wife to old age and illness. They enjoy a few moments together, sharing the supposed magic found in a very special paintbox. Here’s an excerpt:

It was funny, but the last time she remembered being a happy family, before the divorce, was at Christmas time. Rather than making things worse, the holidays seemed to multiply their joy in those more pleasant days. Based on her experiences, Gemma believed that Christmas took whatever the existing feeling was and intensified it. If you were happy, it made you happier. If you were unhappy, it made you miserable, and that’s where Gemma was at the moment. She wondered if that was how it was like for Mr. Franklin too. When his wife was around, Christmas had been blissful. Now that she was gone, this time of year made him grieve her all the more.

She knocked at his door and, after a short wait, his wrinkled face peeked out at her.

“Ah! Gemma – I’ve already made great progress on your suggested painting. I hope to have it done in time for Christmas proper. Come see.”

She followed him into his warm kitchen. His newest painting was already taking shape, a portrait of a more elderly Mrs. Franklin gleefully decorating, cookies cooling atop the oven and gifts waiting to be wrapped. It was only partially complete, but the image immediately carried Gemma back to the days when the neighbourhood children would gather in the house. At the thought, her heartbeat quickened and her cheeks flushed with delight.

“It’s beautiful, Mr. Franklin. It almost feels like she’s alive in there.”

The old man’s blue eyes gleamed and his grin broadened.

“Thanks to you, my dear. You showed me what I was doing wrong. I’m sure she will look alive by the time I’m done. I’m capturing her spirit with the paints, just like she said I could. The magic is there. It’s carrying me back to happier times. I feel alive again myself for the first time in a long while.”

Gemma stayed and watched him paint until late in the afternoon, while they chatted about what she could remember of the parties, as inspiration. She recalled the games they used play with sizable candy canes and barley toys as prizes. She had won a red rooster sucker one year and a barley Santa climbing out of a chimney another – one large enough that it would barely fit in her mouth. All the children got to take home little stockings filled with Mrs. Franklin’s home-baked goods, sugared nuts, peanut brittle and chocolate-covered candied orange peels. All of those things still made Gemma think of Christmas and warmed her heart. She would always treasure those memories.

She lingered as long as she dared to, not wishing to be late for supper. She didn’t want to be the cause of another argument or give her mother a reason to take issue with her visits to Mr. Franklin’s house.

“Can I visit again?” Gemma asked as she was leaving.

“My daughter will be coming over for Christmas – my sons live too far away to drag their families back here for any of the holidays,” Mr. Franklin told her, “But Alison has no kids of her own. She’s a ‘career woman.’ She’ll be gone again by noon on Boxing Day. You can drop by then. Hopefully I’ll have it all finished when you get here.”

Gemma nodded and watched him close the door. Then, hugging her arms for extra warmth, she started crunching her way through the snow, towards home.

More tomorrow J

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