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 tenth pairing 🙂
ARTHURS CHRISTMAS and A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS/A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS IN WALES
Baed on a story by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, these adaptations of his classic prose “A Child”s Christmas in Wales”, one animated and one live action, do a wonderful job of capturing the context and the focus of his story. Thomas was born during the dawn of World War 1, and the story reflects back on the Christmas’ he experienced as a child in Swansea, a small, unassuming, seaside town, shedding light on the shifting economic challanges and the Welsh resistance.
An encycopedia article delves further into Thomas’ influence, suggesting that, “as a national icon, the poet in Wales plays a role similar to that of the cowboy in America. Reputed to have mystical powers and linked to the mysterious druids (religious figures from ancient times), bards are the national heroes of Welsh culture.”
This describes the poet as one who is able to capture the stories of the culture and the people, and both film adaptations share this same mytholical concern. And for Thomas, Christmas affords him the perfect opportunity to remember the world and traditions that shaped dhim.
In the book, an older Thomas is looking back on his own childhood Christmas’ and imagining this as a conversation between a boy and an aging man. In both of the screen adaptations, this comes through a young boy’s relationship to his grandfather where he listens to him reflecting on how Christmas used to be and how it has changed through the years. At one point the young boy remarks on the fresh snow only to have the Grandfather insist that this snow is nothing like the snow that he played in all those years ago. This sparks the reminiscing, the telling of these tales which begin simply and grow seemingly taller and taller as they go on. In some way, the taller the stories get the more honest they become, bringing together cultural perceptions, traditional myths and personal experience.
The animated version is most positioned to capture the gradually building nature of this story in all of its imaginative glory, while the live action version relates it back to the real world history of a time and place that a period piece is able to embody. Both films though share a concern for the relationship between this young boy and this older man. As the old man looks out on the world he no longer seems to recognize it. And so he locates it in his memory. For the boy, these memories and the world he occupies don’t feel that far apart. And the more he shares in these stories the closer these two worlds become. The memory they are creating together becomes the bridge between the past and the present.
In Arthur’s Chrsitmas we find a similar generational theme in play. It tells the story of the Santa family line- the retired grandfather who mourns the loss of the old days as his old sled and the reindeer that once navigated the world sit neglected and collecting dust. This aged man lingers around in the shadows wrestling with feelings of being obsolete and rendered useless in a world he no longer understands.
There is the father, the current Santa who is nearing the end of his time. He is also wrestling with a world he no longer understands, especially when it comes to all this technological advancement. Of utmost concern is who will take on the role of Santa after him.
And then we have the two sons, both potential heirs, the younger (Arthur) seen as awkward and incompetent while the older one is a go getter who has managed to revamp the Christmas system using modern technology, with his sights set on taking over the Santa role.
As the story unfolds, it is the stories shared between Arthur and his Grandfather that help to bring these generations together. While the vision the older son has for a modernized Christmas experience sits in an unspoken tension with his father’s, the sharing of these stories help to remind Arthur and his Grandfather about how much they share. It is through the sharing of these stories that we rediscover what it is that makes Christmas meaningful, bridging the gap between these generational voices and uniting them around a shared tradition.
In both of these stories I am reminded about the power that story holds in this season of celebration. As we share the stories of our tradtions and our experiences, even in a time when we are forced to be apart, this can do the work of reconnecting us to us what it is that we share as a family, as a people, as a culture, even when the world we once understood and the world we now inhabit sits in tension.
And perhaps most of all, as Christians, Christmas reminds us of what is is we share in Christ, with God’s story giving our individual stories a place to co-exist and a way to participate in and understand the world together. It is this sentiment that we find in the powerful final picture of A Child’s Christmas, and it is this same sentiment that carries through the lessons that we find in Arthur’s Christmas.