This collection of holiday-themed short stories is, in essence, Connie Willis’ love letter to Christmas. In the introduction she professes her great love for all aspects of the season, and that love is very evident in the eight stories collected here. In “Miracle,” a young woman discovers her heart’s true desire with the help of “Miracle on 34th Street,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and the Spirit of Christmas Present. In “Newsletter,” a woman notices that everyone around her is suddenly acting kind and polite. Is it because of the Christmas spirit, or something more sinister? (Hint: the latter.) And in my personal favorite story, “Inn,” an alto in the church choir lets a homeless couple into the church, only to discover that it’s Mary and Joseph, lost in space and time on their way to Bethlehem. The genres in this collection range from romantic comedy to murder mystery, but each story deals with expectations that are turned upside-down, unexplained mysteries, and more than a few miracles.
I’m a big fan of Connie Willis, so I had high expectations for this collection, but I was still pleasantly surprised by how much I loved these stories. I knew I was in for a fun ride when Willis contended that “Miracle on 34th Street” is the best Christmas movie ever made, in defiance of the many lovers of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I also loved the speculative edge to these stories, which really emphasized the wonder of Christmas to me. I mentioned that “Inn” is my favorite story in the bunch, and it’s because Willis managed to re-present the first Christmas story in a new way. It’s easy for that story to become familiar, comfortable, and even dull; but “Inn” reminded me that it’s actually a shocking tale in many ways. My one quibble with the collection is that Willis claimed all her stories would have happy endings, but at least two of them (“In Coppelius’s Toyshop” and “Cat’s Paw”) are quite dark! Nevertheless, I loved this book and think it’s a perfect December read!