It’s Christmas again, and here I am, in front of a fire and a gigantic tree with my dog at my feet. A lovely, lazy family day. And once again, I’m reading Little Women. I wrote about this book last year, but I can’t seem to help myself. The timelessness of Little Women bears repeating. It’s my absolute favorite book, and I read it every year at Christmas. It embodies everything I love about Christmas, family, books, life in general. Little Women inspires me to become a better self each year, and reminds me of the simple things in life. I laugh, I cry, I long to go back in time and meet the Alcotts. Even though Louisa May Alcott spoke derisively of Little Women, from what I’ve read I can’t imagine that she and her family were anything less than intensely lively, passionate, loving people, just like the March family. The dreams of the March girls and their journey to make these dreams a reality is proof that when you don’t get what you want, something better is waiting for you. I don’t care if it makes me sound naïve; Christmas brings out childhood anyway. The sweetness of the story keeps me coming back to visit, every year since I was twelve.
Christmas always seems the perfect time to read about the March family. The book opens at Christmas with Jo’s comment that “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.” And yet, the Marches make Christmas from the joy of life and love of family. From the beginning, the book expresses the sentiment that is so dear to the nature of Christmas: the season is not a reflection of getting, but rather a joy of giving. Giving of self, giving of love, even giving of material things. Each year, Christmas seems to start earlier—this year, I swear it started just after Labor Day. It’s difficult to remember that Christmas is all about the birth of a child, and therefore, for me at least, a celebration of childhood. My favorite part of Christmas has always been decorating our tree. This year, it is quite literally the biggest we’ve ever had, and I feel incredibly small next to it. It’s covered with ornaments from several generations, machine-made, hand-crafted and inside jokes galore. It’s lumpy in some places, drooping in others, and yet it still stands proud and tall and perfect. Every year, no matter what, the tree is perfect. The worst holiday is always perfect in its imperfections, because everything collided perfectly to create a perfect nightmare. And yet, the worst always pales in comparison to the best.
I’ve received several special Christmas presents over my nineteen years, truly thoughtful gifts that involved care in presentation, and yet these past few years, I remember my presents more vividly. The past few Christmases, I have received things that I really wanted or needed—a plane ticket home, a book I’ve been wanting for years, posters for my favorite band. All day, mom has been repeating that she loves having teenagers—it makes Christmas so much nicer and more relaxed. And it’s true. When I was little, Christmas started early and ended late, filled with lots of hustle and bustle from one place to the next. All of them start to run together, except for my sixth Christmas. That year, I received a dollhouse and my very own Samantha American Girl doll. At age six, that was it. I could die happy. Now, my only wish every year at Christmas is to be with my family. Sitting here on the High Street and knowing I can see them just by going to another room in the house is enough.
So, while the March sisters were originally wrong, they eventually got it right. It is possible to have Christmas without presents as long as there is love and family. The Alcott family lived on an experimental farm called Fruitlands for a few years, where they practiced simplicity, sincerity and brotherly love. These same ideas a woven through Little Women, and, I hope, my family’s own Christmas. The Grinch discovered this himself. As he and everyone down in Whoville learned, “It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags![…]Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small, was singing, without any presents at all! He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming, it came! Somehow or other, it came just the same.” Christmas can’t come from a store because it means so much more.
Merry Christmas, everyone. May your New Year be merry and bright.
“Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus[…]There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished[…]No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”—Francis P. Church