The Stories of Christmas: 15 Timeless Tales That Capture the Spirit of the Season (Day 3)

Since we are isolated and stuck inside during this Christmas season, I decided this year I was going to put together a list of of my favorite Christmas stories. The angle I took in putting this together is Christmas “pairings”, be it in book form or film. These are stories that seem to me to have a connection in spirit and focus, and which have inspired me over the years.

I have come up with 15 pairings of films/books in total, and my plan is to present those films one a day along with a brief reflection on why these stories resonated for me, how I see them fitting together, and what I think they can say to us in a more difficult Christmas season.
Here is my third pairing 🙂

THE GIFT OF THE MAGI (1905, by O. Henry) AND THE NATIVITY STORY (2006)

“Life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.”

Known for his short stories that span the geographrical settings of his troubled and problematic personal life, Henry (real name, William Porter) was most interested in finding life and beauty in the ordinary and the everyday routine, especially within the extraordinary and larger than life backdrop of New York City. He is known for taking these stories and giving them suprise endings, twists that help subvert our understanding of the ordinary.

One of his most famous is The Gift of the Magi, a powerful Christmas story about an impoverished couple looking for a way to gain enough money just to purchase a gift and make Christmas something special. In his familiar way, Henry provides this story with a twist that not only subverts our understanding of what makes Christmas matter, but challenge our idea of servanthood and sacrifice, especially when set against hard economic realities. The way the story uses the Magi symbolically in order to locate the story of this everyday couple within a profoundly spiritual message about the extraordinary power of servanthood and sacrifice is quite profound.

In The Nativity Story, a cinematic retelling of the Biblical Christmas story, the presence of the Magi allow us to center this human story in the extraordinary image of Christ’s birth. It’s an intimately drawn and utterly honest period piece by Director Chatherine Hardwicke that desires to immerse us in the journey of an impoverished couple’s journey to Bethlehem against an equally challenging economic backdrop. She demonstrates the climatic moment in the story with a sense of humility that invites us to find the extraordinary in the story of two very ordinary persons, and she does so with an eye on drawing out the simplicity of the textual source.

Her incredibly researched and visually stunning work attempts to take an ancient story and tell it in a familiar way. What might be most affecting though is the way she is able to demonstrate Christ’s arrival as a kind of surprise ending, a twist in the narrative. In the story of Christ’s arrival we find the subverting of expectations. In the birth of Christ we find the very image of servanthood and sacrifice that is able to uncover the beauty of this seemingly ordarinary world, the same beauty Henry was able to see in the world around him despite his own troubled life.

It’s a reminder that the extraordinary is often found in the most ordinary of places, and that it is precisely where we don’t expect there to be beauty and wonder that the light can shine the brightest.

Published by davetcourt

I am a 40 something Canadian with a passion for theology, film, reading writing and travel.

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