Every Christmas, the Torrey Academy tutors get together for a Christmas party, and the main event at this party is reading aloud G.K. Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse. It’s not a particularly Christmasy tale (it’s about King Alfred’s defeat of Guthram and his Danes at Ethandune) but it is beautifully written and both heart-wrenching and hopeful. It’s always wonderful to be able to read a book of your own choosing during Christmas break, but it’s even more delightful to read a book aloud with your friends, and that is why we chose a poetry reading to begin our Christmas celebrations. You all, unfortunately, won’t fit into the Torrey office to join us for our reading, but I can offer suggestions for texts you will enjoy reading at home. The following list consists of books particularly conducive to an evening spent together with family or friends around a fire at home, or, since we’re in Southern California, perhaps around a bonfire ring at the beach.
- Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas. This book is a collection of letters from Father Christmas that Tolkien wrote for his own children over twenty years, which were delivered to them each Christmas. They contain tales of the various adventures and travails of Father Christmas and his helpers, including one particularly unlucky North Pole Bear. Some editions contain Tolkien’s own delightful illustrations.
- Dorothy Sayers’ The Man Born to Be King. This series of twelve short plays on the life of Jesus were originally broadcast as radio plays on the BBC from 1941–1942. The plays begin with the birth of Jesus, and continue through his death and resurrection. Though only the first few are properly about the Christmas story, it is good to be reminded of the entire story of Jesus’ incarnation that began with his birth in Bethlehem.
- Plato’s Meno. This might seem like an odd suggestion for Christmas reading. However, it is an excellent dialogue to spark discussions about virtue and education, which I think is great for any time of year. Additionally, Platonic dialogues are delightfully written, and their dialectic form make them particularly suited for reading aloud.
- John Greenleaf Whittier’s epic poem Snowbound. This poem is particularly fitting since Biola’s neighboring city, Whittier, is named after him, but most residents I’ve asked haven’t read anything by him. Whittier was one of the Fireside Poets, along with Longfellow and others, so named for their works’ suitability to be read by families together by the fireside. Snowbound is perhaps not quite as good as Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha or Evangeline, but it does raise interesting questions about the pull of nostalgia in a time of change, as the poem was written about a dying way of life at the end of the Civil War. This pull of nostalgia is often particularly felt at Christmas, and Whittier’s poem gives voice to some of those deeply held feelings.
- Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Yes, this story is familiar to everyone, and perhaps even feels a little cliché to some. However, reading Dickens’ actual words is a different experience from watching a movie adaptation, and movies are how most of us are familiar with the story. Dickens is a great story-teller, and since this is a shorter novella, it’s perfect for reading out loud.