Is it too soon to recommend some Christmas reading?
I hate rushing the seasons away, but reading stories about Christmas never fails to put me in a better frame of mind. I’m always rereading my old favorites, but I also enjoy finding new stories to add to my list. I’d like to recommend a wonderful little book of heartwarming stories – which has now become one of my “old favorites” – called Our Simple Gifts: Civil War Christmas Tales by Owen Parry.
Parry is probably best known for his series of Civil War novels featuring Abel Jones, a Welsh Civil War veteran who goes about solving mysteries in a series of five novels.
This collection of short stories is also set during America’s Civil War, which adds a melancholy feel to the stories. Parry creates fully developed characters and settings in these tales; you feel the cold snow, the warm fires, the despair and the hope.
Our Simple Gifts contains four stories: “Star of Wonder” is the story of a young man returning home from the battlefield, having lost his arm in battle, and his fiancée to typhoid fever. His journey home on Christmas Eve becomes not just a journey, but his destiny. A blizzard, a young Irish widow and the grace of the season show him that forgiveness and faith still exist.
“Tannenbaum” introduces Gus Tannenbaum, a German immigrant serving with the Union troops nicknamed Dutch by the other members of his company. In spite of the prejudice of some, and the smallness of others, Dutch sees these men as his only family, and as such, decides to make this a memorable Christmas for all.
“Nothing but a Kindness” finds Natty Hawks heading home to the hills of Appalachia, having been released from a Union prison in time for Christmas. After losing an eye, he’s no longer a threat, or so the Yankees figure. He knows his family will be surprised to see him; his father, the staunch Union supporter who couldn’t understand why his son joined the Rebels; his mother, worn down and worried, his many siblings, and his beloved grandmother, Old-Ma. And it turns out to be Old-Ma who greets him first, and gives him the ear, the love and the wisdom he needs to carry on.
Finally, “Christmas Gift” shows us a sad Christmas on a southern plantation, and how roles can be reversed in the twinkling of an eye. Dundee is suddenly a free man, no longer a slave. Those who were once mighty have now fallen, and Dundee is only human. He searches his heart and soul about the notion of justice, of judgment and what Christmas really means. Can he find it in his heart to reclaim himself? Will his faith bring him peace?
Each one of these tales expresses forgiveness, love, charity and faith…all the things that together represent the true meaning of Christmas. Some may feel that the juxtaposition of the war and this holy season tugs at the heart strings too much; is too sentimental. But if you can’t be sentimental at Christmas time, then there is just no place for sentiment in this world, is there? This is one of the better writers of historical fiction putting his talents to a topic near and dear to his heart. And it shows. Our Simple Gifts by Owen Parry is on my short list of things to read each holiday season.