Christmas tends to evoke strong feelings in all of us, and not always of the cozy yuletide kind. It is a conflict of emotion captured beautifully in this terrific, ranging collection of short fiction, memoirs, and verse, all of which are tied in some way to Atlantic Canada. Christmas is the locus around which the narratives unfurl – sometimes tangentially, other times holding pride of place. Contemporary authors such as Mark Jarman, David Adams Richards, and Wayne Johnston sit comfortably alongside L.M. Montgomery, Hugh MacLennan, and Milton Acorn.
Alden Nowlan and Harry Bruce offer variations on the superstition that cattle must not be viewed in their stalls on Christmas eve, an act which will always lead to dire consequences for the viewer. The significance of the orange as the sensuous apotheosis of the season is especially pervasive in the older stories, including one from MacLennan, from which the collection borrows its title. There are forays into the mystic, such as in Johnston’s story of a mysterious mummer who becomes a kind of guardian angel to a child he saves from drowning. Some harsh realities are also proffered in stories by Lisa Moore and Richard Cumyn, which touch on the lives of the destitute and marital infidelity, respectively.
A standout in the collection is Mark Jarman’s Cougar, which offers an inspired mix of sardonic humour and hair-raising adventure as a man’s whiplash collar saves him from a vicious cougar attack during a foray into the woods to cut down his own Christmas tree. There is plenty here to warm the cockles of the heart, too, should they require warming. But despite its title, the vast majority of these narratives are strong enough to be enjoyed during any season.