Review: Surprised by Jeanette Winterson's Christmas Days

03. Dec. 2017

Jeanette Winterson’s collection Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days
Jeanette Winterson’s collection Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days

Christmas is hard to find these days. It’s getting heavier to lift the Yule spirit from under the shellac of expectations and obligations. Then I picked up Jeanette Winterson’s collection Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days. And there it was. Christmas! 

Irreverent and reverent, evocative and wickedly funny at times, these stories will warm even the most cynical soul. I had thrown my long-overlooked copy into a bag (along with several others because you never know when a hostage situation might occur and you’ll be stuck with nothing to read - thank you, Ann Patchett, for that lesson learned), and without much hope, prepared to skim while waiting-room waiting. It was as if Ms. Winterson breezed in with a tumbler of scotch and a Yule log, turned off the horrid over-head lights, lit some candles and sat down to spin tales of ghosts, gifts, and magic. These are not your schlocky O’Henry stories - apologies to any Magi fans. These crackle. 

Talking snow mamas, vengeful ghosts, urban Christmas sprites. Each story can stand alone, but charmingly is followed by a recipe - which I feared would prove incongruous, but which surprisingly jives with the fireside tone. They’re really snippets of memories. Ghosts of Christmases Past masquerading in recipe form. Although maybe some would work - if I’m brave enough to test Susie Orbach’s Gravlax, I’ll let you know. It's an auto-biographical touch that connects us with this sharp, witty author and clears the palette for the next twirl around the proverbial tree.

One of my favorite takeaways from this collection was the reminder that Christmastime belongs to us all. To all religions and to those that eschew religion. It’s an ancient tradition that resonates with us because it is fundamentally human, no matter what tribe you hail from. Goddesses, mangers, St. Nick. The author exhorts Christmas is a “gaudy rag-bag of a festival with something borrowed from everywhere - pagans, Romans, Norsemen, Celts, Turks…It [is] a holiday - holy day - of the best kind, where devotion has joy in it. Life should be joyful.” 

I liked being reminded that it’s ok to let myself believe this time is special. That kindness can grow from concrete. That eye-contact can be made and wishes of good health and cheer exchanged. This season is powerful enough to withstand muzak, Mariah Carey, and the Muppets. It’s Christmas. And underneath the tinsel, it’s still there.

So Merry Christmas, whatever that means to you. Best wishes for us all.

Ghillian Porter-Smith reviews a fascinating Christmas work, Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days by Jeanette Winterson. Ghillian is also reminded that the feeling of Christmas holiday is not reserved for a few. It is a winter holiday for everyone.

© Ghillian Porter-Smith / OgFOMK ArTS -- 2018 All Rights Reserved. - Books on Review  - "Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days by Jeanette Winterson"

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