Writing for Golden Hours has been pure gift for Lanier and me—and we’re not finished yet. In fact, I have a notion that during these days after the twenty-fifth, continued ruminating and reminiscing will be just what the doctor ordered. Lanier excels at keeping the twelve days—I don’t do as well. I start to get blue that it’s all winding down—that sales are on for wrapping paper and ornaments and NPR reverts to Dvorak.
But, happily, my head’s full of the shining hours I’ve so recently enjoyed. One of the nicest days was Christmas book club, the grandest gathering of all the year for our little group we call Ladies Literary Society. We customarily gather in December at the home of Rachel, a Christmas fairie if there ever was one, but we’ve been without our sprite for the last two Christmases, as Rachel and her family were living in Singapore. The four of us soldiered on bravely in her absence. It wasn’t easy.
But this year, Rachel’s Arts and Crafts-style home–only purchased a few months ago–greeted us in all its holiday splendor. Rachel has a talent for decorating simply and sparsely but with warmth. She’d wandered her neighborhood with a pair of clippers for magnolia and cedar, box and berries, which were artfully draped over mantels and doorways and fashioned into wreaths.
It was balm to see Rachel buzzing around her new kitchen. She served us steaming mugs of cider with cream (see recipe below) as we arrived, and then we sat down in her dining room to asparagus bisque followed by pork tenderloin with a honey-butter-balsamic glaze and roasted root vegetables.
After luncheon the five of us adjourned to the living room for tea and a story–it’s tradition for Lanier to read us a short Christmas tale in front of a crackling fire. A hit of the past was “Bid the Tapers Twinkle” by Bess Streeter Aldrich, but I remember last year reading an awfully dreary essay by Dickens. This time, Lanier chose “Not If I Know It” from an Anthony Trollope collection. I have to admit I can’t offer a thorough review–I was distracted by Rachel’s house and the life-affirming cup of Singapore tea in my lap and the general excitement of the occasion.
I usually pay attention, I promise. So from our Ladies Literary Society to you, here are a few recommendations for Christmas stories that can be read (more or less) in one sitting — and are delightful when shared. (Though good luck to the poor soul who’s called upon to read out loud some of the sadder selections’ conclusions. The LLS had to pass around one of these books like a hot potato as each of our voices cracked with sobs. “Oh, let me have it,” I said, but I failed to squeak out the final paragraphs as well. Our beloved Jenijoy, who now lives in North Carolina, was the last woman standing, getting the job done. Guess which story it was…)
The Birds’ Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggin (1887) – Inspiring, lovely, bittersweet.
Home for Christmas by Lloyd C. Douglas (1937) – No drama (or even much of a plot) here, just homespun memories of Christmas the way it used to be. By the author of classics like The Robe and The Magnificent Obsession. (The latter is an LLS favorite, and even more so is its lesser known prequel, Dr. Hudson’s Secret Journal.)
Journey Into Christmas and Other Stories – A collection of sweet short stories by Bess Streeter Aldrich, a well-loved Nebraskan author who lived from 1881 to 1954. Heartfelt holiday stories from small towns in simpler times.
A Christmas Memory – Here Truman Capote offers a glimpse of what his young life was like in rural Alabama. A tribute to the kind of love that can brighten a (rather bleak) childhood.
The Gift of the Magi – So well written by O. Henry, justifiably a Christmas classic. Pick a beautifully illustrated version, like this one.
The “Christmas” chapter of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – When the girls decide to sacrifice their hot breakfast for a family struggling more than they are, proving that 19th-century character-building is tough stuff.
The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story by Gloria Houston with wonderful illustrations by Barbara Cooney – (If you have not read Cooney’s Miss Rumphius, I don’t care how old you are–get yourself a copy right quick!) Perfect Christmas Tree is also a children’s book, but children’s books are often the best, aren’t they? Especially at Christmas.
Lanier finished the Trollope as we drank the last of the tea. It’s no small thing to tear one’s self away from such a scene. But before the five of us went our ways to resume our “real” lives, we handed each other small offerings, which amounted to a pretty pile.
Goodbye, dear ones–and what shall we read for January? Oh, unthinkable January! Ah, well. Only 350 days or so until the next Christmas book club…
Rachel’s Mulled Cider (adapted from Pioneer Woman)
- 4 whole cinnamon sticks
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 8 whole allspice berries
- orange peel from 1 orange
- lemon peel from 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 6 cups unfiltered (fresh Squeezed Is Great) Apple Juice
- 1/2 cup bourbon (optional)
- unsweetened whipped cream with vanilla
Mix spices and citrus peel in a saucepan; pour in apple juice, maple syrup and bourbon. Bring almost to a boil, then simmer on lowest heat for 30 minutes. Serve in cups or mugs with a dollop of whipped cream.