‘Home For Christmas’ by Carson McCullers

Home For Christmas by Carson McCullers, 1949

The magic trick:

Elevating the protagonist’s feelings about time and Christmas by contrasting them against those of her siblings

Merry Christmas! We’ve got a very sweet Christmas story for you today.

McCullers defines her protagonist’s love for Christmas in this story against that of her siblings. It’s not defiant. It’s not competitive. But it is a notable contrast, and the effect is interesting. Consider that logic would likely suggest that two happy people produces a happier result than one happy person. Right? But that’s not the case here. The protagonist feels the temporary nature of Christmas so hard that her brother can’t possibly relate to what he sees as downright behavior. Later, the protagonist is baffled by how quickly her sister is able to fall asleep on Christmas Eve. Shouldn’t the anticipation be enough to doom her attempts? These moments stick to the reader. They elevate your appreciation for the narrator and trigger your own holiday memories. You’d think that the siblings enjoying Christmas in the story would up the happiness quotient. But, no, their inability to reach the protagonist’s level of emotion only makes the protagonist’s level of emotion all the more touching. And that’s quite a trick on McCullers’s part. 

The selection:

Christmas Eve was the longest day, but it was lined with the glory of tomorrow. The sitting-room smelled of floor wax and the clean, cold odor of the spruce tree. The Christmas tree stood in a corner of the front room, tall as the ceiling, majestic, undecorated. It was our family custom that the tree was not decorated until after we children were in bed on Christmas Eve night. We went to bed very early, as soon as it was winter dark. I lay in the bed beside my sister and tried to keep her awake.

“You want to guess again about your Santa Claus?”

“We’ve already done that so much,” she said.

My sister slept. And there again was another puzzle. How could it be that when she opened her eyes it would be Christmas while I lay awake in the dark for hours and hours? The time was the same for both of us, and yet not at all the same.

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