An Orange from Portugal: Christmas Stories from the Maritimes and Newfoundland at the bookstore and thought, "I'd really like to read that." But usually it was July or something and screaming hot outside. Sticky tanktops are not Christmas spirit making (unless you're in Australia but that's a whole other kettle of fish). So, I didn't pick it up until last month and just read it last week.
Anne Simpson collected a variety of selections from a wide range of Atlantic Canadian authors, like Wayne Johnson, Beatrice Morgan, L.M. Montgomery, Alistair MacLeod and others. This anthology includes short stories, poems and in some cases excerpts of books. The tone of the stories are as varied as the authors themselves. Some are funny, some are thoughtful, but most carry the spirit of the season.
The thing about anthologies for me is, I like some of the stories and I'm not keen on others. I felt the same way about An Orange from Portugal. I had my favorites.
The Tale of a Tree by David Adams Richards tells of teenaged brothers who inadvertently take an visiting Irish boy on Christmas tree excursion. They don't seem bothered by the fact they've essentially kidnapped a boy they've never seen before or that he says odd things or odd things happen on this trip. They take it all matter of factly. Very funny. The Mysterious Mummer by Bert Batstone involves another boy but this one is saved by a masked stranger. The stranger visits every year and offers wisdom but never tells them his name. It doesn't take much to make the neighbours suspicious and afraid. They make a plan to find the identity of the mummer one Christmas Eve.
Christmas Aboard the Belmont comes from Grace Ladd's diary of her travels with her husband the sea captain and how they managed Christmas. A Tale of Three Stockings without Holes by Rhoda Graser tells of Jewish sisters who beg their mother to put up stockings on Christmas Eve. I loved The Homeward Trail by Charles G.D. Roberts for the feeling of adventure as a father and son rush home through the woods while being watched and stalked by animals.
But my favorite was the story from which the book takes its name, An Orange from Portugal by Hugh MacLennan. Hugh says Halifax is a city Dickens would love, then goes on to tell a Dickensian tale. During the First World War, a father accidentally blows up his house and the family moves into a boarding house. The son meets a tough little boy who still believes in 'Santy Claus' and all he wants is a real orange from Portugal. This puts the son in an uncomfortable position because he knows Santa isn't real and doesn't want this kid's heart broken. The ending is one Dickens could have written.
Since these are Maritime stories, it's not all kittens and rainbows. There are stories of hard times and death during the season but such is life, I suppose. I was not reading Winter Dog because it was by Alistair MacLeod and I knew things wouldn't end well for the poor dog. No dead dog stories, please. However, most of these stories could be read by the fire with a mug of hot chocolate and some shortbread cookies.
Two stories from the book can be found here if you'd like a taste.