For the past couple of years, Atlantic Books Today has been collecting the favourite Christmas memories of Atlantic Canadian authors. Each story has been memorable in its own way. Sheree Fitch told us about the elves that pelted her family with pennies when they sang together after trimming the Christmas tree. Anne Louise MacDonald described the Christmas stockings her mother made. And George Elliott Clarke told us why 2001: A Space Odyssey was one of his favourite Christmas books. After compiling all these stories, we’ve noticed—not unexpectedly—that although the authors’ experiences are very different, there are a couple of books that pop up again and again: A Christmas Carol and ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. This year, these two books proved to be favourites again, but, as always, the memories attached to them couldn’t be more different.
“Growing up, my favourite Christmas book was ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. My mother read it to me and since I was an inquisitive child, I learned fairly early on that Santa Claus is not in the book anywhere. But there is a whole lot about Saint Nicholas.
That book led me to a lifetime exploration of Saint Nicholas. He’s the patron saint of sailors, merchants, pawnbrokers, and children. He’s a very important figure, and as I’ve written my books, I’ve often had long talks with him. I’ve also had long talks with Saint Nicholas when children have asked me very difficult questions.
Sometimes Saint Nicholas gives me the answers. And that’s why Christmas for me is a pretty special thing.”
“My earliest Christmas memory is of Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas, and I’m almost convinced that it’s the same for most children. The reason I remember it the best is because my mother used to read it to us at night before bed. This was back when I was probably three or four years old, and there were five of us children. My dad had just gone back to university to study internal medicine, so my mother basically became a single parent on a very low income. And God bless her, in addition to all the other household chores, raising four boys and one girl, with two more to come, she still found time to sit and read us that story on Christmas Eve. And then we would sit up and listen to the radio broadcaster announce where Santa was: ‘He’s over Norway… he’s coming from Newfoundland… he’s landing here, he’s landing there…’ Combined, those two things are my earliest memories of Christmas. My mom passed away two years ago, and you tend to think back to those memories more when you’ve lost that person.”
“Growing up in the 80s, A Christmas Carol was kind of a trope. Every show had an episode that mimicked the story. But I had never read it—I had never even watched the old black and white movie. Until I was 16, the only experience I had with this book, which is entrenched in our collective pop culture memory, was The Muppet Christmas Carol, which was brilliant. It retold it perfectly.
But when I was 16, my two older sisters came home from university for Christmas, which meant that I got kicked out of my bedroom and had to sleep in the basement. I read a lot at the time, and I had the same problem that I always have—I ran out of books and I had nothing to read before bed. So I went over to Mom and Dad’s shelf, and found a book with a whole lot of Christmas stories, including A Christmas Carol. It had never struck me as a short story, so I thought, ‘Well this will be good for a couple of nights.’ I started reading it, thinking, ‘Oh, I know this whole story already… I’ve seen the Muppets do it.’ But the story was scary as heck! I never realized it was a real 19th-century ghost story.
I scare easily anyway, and here I am, in the basement of my house, with no windows, and this book scaring the heck out of me. I had to keep putting it down, so it actually took me longer to read it than it should have. But I enjoyed it, which was such I surprise, because I thought it was going to be the thing that tided me over until I had something else to read. It’s an old-fashioned ghost story, not an episode of Full House. It’s scary.”