Some of My Best Friends: Reading Festive

Christmas to me is listening to classic Christmas tunes, decorating a tree from my favorite lot, and rereading a few books that always put me in a festive mood. Two are novels I still treasure from my childhood, while one is a more recent tradition.

The Dark is Rising
by Susan Cooper
Before there was Harry Potter, there was Will Stanton. Just before Will’s Midwinter eleventh birthday, he notices strange things happening around him- family pets avoid him, electronic devices go on the fritz, and neighbors are behaving oddly. On his birthday, Will discovers he is the last of the Old Ones, a group of immortals who exist to fight the Dark, an evil that threatens the world. As a Sign-Seeker, he is tasked with collecting the Six Signs of the Light . This quest takes him through time and space as the story races to a thrilling ending. Fantasy fans will have no trouble believing Cooper was an actual student of J.R.R. Tolkien when reading this tale.

This books speaks to me at this time of year since I have long been fascinated by the co-opting of pagan traditions by Christianity (and now the secular world as well). The action in The Dark is Rising takes place around the holidays, but it begins with the Winter Solstice for a reason. The mythology underpinning this book and series is very much rooted in Celtic myths and Arthurian legend. The heavy winter snow that builds throughout the story always makes it festive for me, but the nods to ancient customs definitely brings to mind the old celebrations like Yule and Saturnalia. Recommend reading with some nog-or maybe even some wassail- by a fire and a real tree if you have them. It is really a good read anytime though!

This was the cover of my copy from childhood.

This was the cover of my copy from childhood.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
by C.S. Lewis
I can still remember being truly amazed when my mom first read this to my brother and me. Sure, I had watched fantasy based cartoons before and heard fairy tales, but this was my first true fantasy novel. Imagine! Kids just playing in a house and discovering a door to a whole new world filled with “imaginary” creatures. It filled me with such a sense of wonder and curiosity. When I started reading full chapter books on my own, it was one of the first I read- followed shortly by the rest of the Chronicles of Narnia. This is a pretty standard classic, so I will not go into plot.

As to why it is a Christmas favorite, I yield to a description of Narnia from the book, “Always winter but never Christmas.” Later, I would read it in school through a more academic lens, but that was lost on me. The basic story- kids fighting an evil witch in a magical land to break up an endless winter (did I mention I live in a place where it tends to snow a lot?)- is all I need. When the snow begins to melt and Father Christmas shows up with gifts, I recapture some of the joy I experienced while reading this as a child. How often can any of us say that about anything in life as adults?

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas
by Agatha Christie
There are few characters whose deaths I have wanted more than Simeon Lee. In this patriarch Christie gives us quite a villain- so much so I hesitate to call him a victim. His death is early in the book, so no spoilers here. And what a death it is! A locked room mystery of the finest order! Add to that a bevy of suspects by way of the family all stuck under the same roof and you have all the ingredients for a classic Christie mystery.

This is not a cheap holiday gimmick of a book though. The characters in this one are some of the most well developed in any of Christie’s works. A proper English family handling the pressure of a murder investigation as well as trying to keep up with all the traditional trappings of the holidays creates the perfect dynamic for it. As he does though, little by little Poirot chips away at the seemingly baffling case to solve it in a brilliant fashion.

When I was home from college my senior year (quite a few years ago), I happened to pick this one up for the first time in ages and found a whole new appreciation for it. Since then I like to reread it every couple years. If you want to read this one for the holidays, it is great for travel or a lazy day of reading- it is just a great puzzler.

So, that is what I have been/will be reading. Do you have any holiday reads you enjoy? Or reading traditions tied to the holidays (Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years,etc)?