As another Christmas Eve arrives, book lovers will join other holiday celebrants around the world in hoping for the arrival of a perfect Dec. 25 – an aspiration that, life being what it is, is probably never fulfilled.
Is there really such a thing, after all, as a perfect Christmas – a day in which we attain complete emotional fulfillment, get exactly the gifts we want, and achieve flawless harmony with our relatives?
Maybe the perfect Christmas is available only to the authors among us – those clever souls who have the power to create a fictional Christmas of their choosing on the page, bending the holiday to their will, smoothing out its rough spots.
Dickens did it most famously in “A Christmas Carol,” neatly tying up all loose ends, and reforming the seemingly incorrigible Scrooge by the final chapter. Clement C. Moore did much the same thing in “The Night Before Christmas,” his classic poem about a visit by Saint Nick.
And Donald Hall offered his own take on the perfect Christmas a couple of years ago in a lesser-known book that deserves more readers, “Christmas at Eagle Pond.”
Hall, former poet laureate of the United States, spent his childhood summers with his maternal grandparents at a New Hampshire farm called Eagle Pond. The homestead inspired an early Hall memoir, “String Too Short to be Saved,” that helped establish him as a national literary figure. In 1975, Hall and his late wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, moved to Eagle Pond, which has continued to figure largely in Hall’s writing.
As a child, “I wanted desperately to visit [Eagle Pond] for Christmas, but it never worked out,” Hall tells readers. “During the school year in Connecticut, I read the postcards my grandmother wrote: autumn leaves, Christmas, the first daffodils. My mother told me stories about winter at Eagle Pond Farm, where my grandfather chopped timber and hauled ice, and about the Christmas parties at the church.”
From these historical clues, Hall stitched together a fictional speculation on the Eagle Pond childhood Christmas he never had, crafting a charming story of a little boy, Donnie, who visits Eagle Pond for Christmas, 1940. It’s a slender, 78-page chapter book, full of period detail about Moxie, goosefeather mattresses, and sled rides down country hills – a narrative ostensibly aimed at young adults, but easily enjoyed by older readers, too.
“Christmas at Eagle Pond” was published in 2012, so it’s still too early to tell if Hall’s yuletide tale will become a Christmas classic. But it does, at the very least, serve as a pleasant reminder of a comforting truth: If you don’t get the Christmas you want tomorrow, there’s always the possibility of putting words to paper, and inventing one more to your liking.
Danny Heitman, a columnist for The Advocate newspaper in Louisiana, is the author of “A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House.”