It’s the first day of winter! Hooray! I love winter. I LOVE winter in all of it’s quiet, cold, freezing, icy, white, profound, dark, cozy, blinding glory. Last year, I wrote this post on my other site about why winter is the most comforting, productive time of year for me, so I won’t rehash that. Instead, I’m going to have myself a ramble on the kind of books I love to read around Christmastime, which can pretty much be summed up by Jeanette Winterson’s new collection.
Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days is the book equivalent of a dark, frosty-windowed night, and the cosy home that protects you from the cold. I do a lot of re-reading this time of year- Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sherlock Holmes, The Dark is Rising, fairy tales, Dracula and The Lord of the Rings (especially Return of the King) tend to get a lot of action this time of year. They aren’t particularly wintery books, but they all acknowledge an overarching darkness and the triumph of light (or logic, or goodness) over it.
That kind of story arc especially appeals to me at this time of year, when I’m reading under a blanket in my battered leather chair. While the stories in Christmas Days cover a lot of ground subject-wise, at the heart of them all is a shadowy snatch of darkness (whether from violence, grief, or loneliness) and an effort to transcend it.
Winterson is especially good at ghost stories, and there are some amazing ghost stories in this collection. There are isolated houses, unsolved murders, hotels with questionable histories and avenging brides. I got so caught up that I got that shifty, creepy feeling in my spine, which was fun because I almost never get that feeling from a book.
Some of the stories that made my heart ache too, like “The Snowmama” about a lonely little girl, or “Glow-Heart” about a man grieving his lover, and even “The Silver Frog” a super satisfying fairy tale about a horrible woman who runs a horrible orphanage and her horribly satisfying end. Interleaved between these stories were 12 recipes that doubled as essays on everything from estrangement and grief, to being married to a Jew at Christmas.
Jeanette Winterson gets winter. She’s written articles and essays about why the quiet, dark time is important, and I agree with her on every point. Winter is a time of contemplation, for slowing down, for taking stock. It’s a time to get re-centered with yourself. Where am I in my own landscape, and where I want to go in the coming year?
The essays and stories in this collection honor that impulse. They are a cosy nest of a reading experience and they set the perfect tone for that kind of quiet, ritualistic contemplation. They’re also just a pleasure to read for their own sake, which is probably why they worked for me on that deeper level. Plus, Winterson is funny and wry and wise and totally irreverent, even while she’s being very reverent. Plus, the biryani recipe is killer. And the mulled wine…god, that mulled wine was good. So, yes. Clearly, I’ve got another book to reread next year.