The Blooming of “Christmas Rose”
“Christmas is for children,” Mel Torme tells us in song. Certainly the vast majority of holiday-themed pop culture is heavily kid-centric. Stories of Santa Claus and the magic he brings to children abound, the 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street being the best- known (and the best); and who could forget all those do-or-die Christmas wishes, like little Ralphie’s longing for a Red Ryder BB gun? Adults’ role in these stories is to support their children and/or to rediscover their own faith with their children as a mirror of their former, innocent selves. Childless adults usually don’t enter these stories at all, except as villains.
No one would ever (I hope) begrudge children the fun and excitement of Christmas, but since childhood is such a small fraction of a normal, healthy lifespan, I can’t help wondering sometimes: how and when might adults, particularly those without children, claim a share of the holiday bliss?
It’s easy to forget, in the midst of all the kid-directed Christmas entertainment, that the most famous Christmas story since the Nativity itself, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” centers on an elderly, childless bachelor. Even readers who don’t generally care for Dickens often like this story, as well they should, for Ebenezer Scrooge is a superbly drawn protagonist. He’s thoroughly unlikable and anti-social when we first meet him, but Dickens paints him in such a way that he catches and holds our interest, and we root for his redemption rather than for his destruction. The main lesson he learns is that he may still find a place at the celebration. The man with no traditional family may embrace his role in the family of humankind. He need not be alone.
Back in 2004, when I was rehearsing for my first Christmas show with the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company, I was pleased to see that the scripts for the show focused on a variety of protagonists, including not only families with children but a pair of singles at a Christmas office party, a World War I soldier, a pair of World War II soldiers, an impoverished married couple in the Great Depression, and a department store Santa. Yet I noticed one under-represented demographic. Except for a funny piece detailing an elementary school teacher’s efforts to manage an out-of-control Christmas pageant, none of the plays featured a past-her-prime single woman as a major character. I started to consider how I might write a Christmas play about a spinster who neither has nor works with children. How might such a woman — the woman I expected to become, before my husband came along — keep Christmas in her heart?
Though Rose is the title character of both the play and the short story I adapted from it, she is not the protagonist. She is a figure of mystery, a recluse whose elaborate holiday light and decoration displays rouse the neighbors’ curiosity. The real protagonist is Laura, a teenage girl selling holiday bells as a fund raiser for her high school band. Laura is the Scrooge figure, the character who has lost faith. She believes that “Christmas is for children” and she has outgrown it. She’s ill inclined to try to penetrate the mystery of the woman she calls “the second coming of Boo Radley,” but her friend and sales partner insists on it. The recluse surprises them both: the cheerful, bird-like old lady is happy to welcome them, and the indoor decor, which few have ever seen, proves even richer and more festive than the outdoor display. The effect Rose has on the cynical, heartsick Laura I leave for the reader to discover. but Rose gave me the opportunity to explore how an aging woman with an Emily Dickinson-like lifestyle may take joy in the holidays. Christmas is for everyone.
Rose’s story can be found in Gilded Dragonfly Books’ anthology A Stone Mountain Christmas, along with a variety of entertaining stories which feature protagonists from all walks of life, of many ages and circumstances, from a young woman reeling from a painful break-up to a middle-aged daughter concerned about her aging father, from a lost dog in search of a family to the dynamic super-heroine Ultra-Chick. The collection is now available on Amazon.com, in both paperback and Kindle formats.