Photo: My kitty with my Christmas reading
I enjoyed reading a heartwarming new anthology of fifty-five Canadian Christian writers, Christmas with Hot Apple Cider: Stories from the Season of Giving and Receiving. I read it each morning at breakfast for about a month. It was a lovely way to enjoy the holiday season and continue to experience its warmth after the celebrations were done for the year.
I especially enjoyed the memoirs of early days and simpler times, like Valentina Gal’s bus ride in 1959 Hamilton, Ontario (“Seven Silver Dollars,” p. 11) and Angelina Fast’s “An Immigrant Christmas” of adjusting to life in Canada in 1948 (p. 28). A more contemporary immigrant story by Melony Teague was also lovely (“From Sea Sand to Snowflakes,” p. 191).
Carol Ford’s adoption story, “My Forever Home, 1948” got me teary-eyed (p. 53). My mind whirled with the potential of other adoption stories that I could write. I started one, with the main character a grumpy orange tabby cat. Left it in the slush pile for now, but I think it has potential.
Many stories were inspiring. I loved Janis Cox’ “New Christmas Traditions” (p. 196). Her family decided that instead of giving gifts to the adults, they would use the money they would have spent to bless others. When they gathered at Christmas, they exchanged stories instead of presents, and heard about the people who had been helped. I could see how that tradition could lower seasonal stress levels and bring the focus back to giving rather than receiving.
I was also touched by L. June Stevenson’s idea of visiting hospital patients on Christmas Day, when her family would be away (“My Pork Chop Christmas,” p. 158). She was able to transform what could have been a lonely afternoon by thinking of others.
I found the editing could have been tighter at times. Some accounts were a bit repetitive and awkwardly phrased. Occasionally the selections were a tad preachy, but not usually.
Although I tended to prefer the non-fiction stories, the fiction was strong. Robert White’s “No Room?” (p. 272) was clever and insightful, about a writer struggling to write a sympathetic story for a Christmas pageant about the innkeeper who had no room but a stable for the pregnant Mary and her husband. I enjoyed exploring the possible past while the writer fought present day writer’s block: “Played some Scrabble. Started typing again. Stared at the blinking cursor.” The character succeeds, as does the story.
Editor N.J. Lindquist’s story, “The Christmas Lesson” (p. 235), puts together a hot new single minister with ebony skin and a working-too-hard young single woman in what starts out as a predictable romance, but takes you more in a direction of growth and service. It keeps you guessing.
The writer who told me about the series, Rose Seiler Scott, contributed an alternative Christmas story, “Light of the World 2.0: Alternative History” (p. 284). It’s set in a Surrey, B.C. farm in "Clover Valley." A reporter is sent to cover a story at a barn, where he finds a young homeless family with a newborn nestled next to a barn cat. The man soon admits that he’s not the baby’s father: “That would be God.” Farm workers arrive in a truck, claiming they saw “More lights than Diwali” and angels, leading them to this baby born to save all people, “Even our people.” The reporter is flummoxed, but decides to write “something, perhaps about hope and light. This world could use some of each.”
A single play in the collection is well-written, Glynis Belec’s “The Search” (p. 264); although it was odd to see it described as “dramatic fiction.” It’s an account of three wise women searching for Jesus at “Stuffmart,” and finding him in a surprising way.
The poetry seemed a bit weak, with some exceptions. Brian C. Austin’s “Not This Christmas” takes you inside a prison, with effective use of an evocative repeated stanza: “Clang of bars. / Great gates of steel. / Metallic crunch of massive locks.” (p. 232).
Doris Fleming’s “Daddy’s Old Shoebox” (p. 110) uses rhyme and meter well, and a shoebox of memories to connect with the father, described tenderly as “Hardworking farm boy, friend-making soldier, / Loving father, and hero to me.” Maureen E. Kowal’s “A Christmas Prayer” (p. 52) shares a close connection of a child with her grandfather, who seems to be sleeping in church but is praying, something they can do together.
I also liked Marguerite Cummings’ “December Blues,” (p. 195), a simple but sweet poem with the message of “being” instead of “doing” to beat December blues, ending with “I’ll give a gift of presence, / And let the presents be.” Other poems tell compelling stories, but it seemed that more editing would have been helpful.
I found the final poem by Ron Wyse, “Christmas Choir,” (p. 308) very effective. I could picture the struggling singers “Turning the page, such a / Staggering of lines and words!” A stanza about loneliness is spaced apart from the rest, beautiful on its own: “Such my isolation, begun so long ago, / Although many came for many occasions, / Aloneness endured, untouched by / All kindly words to the contrary.” But a brief moment of unity, when “All parts finally sing together” hint at a “dizzying thought, the ancient dream.” The reader is wrapped in the warmth of "the blanketed crib" and a final blessing: “Peace / On earth, to all of good will.”
I’m now reading one of the earlier anthologies of the series, Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon: Stories of Finding Love in Unexpected Places. What a great lead-in to Valentine’s Day!
- Irene Plett
Details: Christmas With Hot Apple Cider: Stories From the Season of Giving and Receiving, ed. N. J. Lindquist (2017, That's Life! Communications, ISBN 9781927692417)
Topics: Book reviews, Christian literature, short stories, non-fiction, memoirs, poetry, Christmas literature, Canadian writers, Christian writers