Skip to main content


December 1, 2014

Lacy Crawford: The First Christmas Story, and the Best

Posted by emily

We’re excited to kick off our annual Holiday Author Blogs with Lacy Crawford, whose acclaimed debut, EARLY DECISION, follows five students over one autumn as Anne, “the application whisperer,” helps them navigate the madness of college admissions. After 15 years as a private college counselor, Lacy is certainly in a position to shed light on the grueling admissions process. She also, of course, knows how important the stories we tell are --- whether as part of our college applications or our holiday traditions. Here, she talks about a sad Christmas story she never liked as a child, and the hopeful story she likes to tell her own children.

In a house where so many books were given at Christmas, my mother simply tied stacks with ribbon. One year, when I was first able to read, I received a very special book. Incredibly, it was presented a few days before Christmas. Mine was a pious family in a small Midwestern town. We did not so much as peek beneath the tree until after church Christmas morning, but this book, called THE LITTLEST ANGEL, was different.

Here’s the story: A boy, who is exactly “four years, six months, five days, seven hours and 42 minutes” old, arrives at the gates of Heaven. He is admitted, but he makes a terrible angel. Always late for choir rehearsal, always dropping his halo. His wings don’t work and he falls off of clouds. He is homesick. All he wants is a precious box from beneath his bed at home. Inside are a child’s treasures, including the collar of his beloved dead dog. A senior angel agrees to retrieve the box.

Immediately thereafter, word spreads through Heaven that the Christ child is to be born, and every angel prepares a gift. The littlest angel has no idea what to offer. Finally he gives up his treasure box. Deeply moved, God sets the box in the night sky and makes it shine: the Star of Bethlehem.

I found so many problems with this story I could not think where to begin. The boy died. We know to the minute when he died, but not how or why. Second, he is all alone in heaven. Where is his dead dog? What about his grandparents, or other children? And above all: Why can the angels retrieve something from beneath his bed, but not let him see his mom?

Every year I suffered this story. There were other holiday books, of course --- THE GRINCH and ‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, Frosty and Rudolph and so on --- but this was the sacred child’s text.

Thirty years later, when I had my first son, my mother mailed me our old copy of THE LITTLEST ANGEL. I read it again and decided I could not, would not, read the story of a miserably lonely, dead little boy to my own little boy at Christmastime.

By now, a deep rift had opened between me and my parents, who did not approve of my Jewish husband. They no longer spend Christmas with us, and because my husband doesn’t bring his own expectations to the mix, it is up to me to decide how Christmas will be. I find this to be, above all things, a question about books, the selection of stories.

What will we tell our children? What will we read?

The story we have chosen is the original, the birth of Jesus as written in the Gospel of Luke. Have you read it, start to finish? It is one hell of a story. A young couple and a journey into darkness. The bureaucracy of a cruel tax. A baby for which the couple is unprepared, but who, they are assured, will be important. What new parents haven’t felt some version of these things? Then there is the cold night and the empty stall. The baby comes. Shepherds are met by angels and are terrified. But the news is good. A star appears. And not two weeks later, a trail of kings. The people who walked in darkness, says another Gospel, have seen a great light.

Thereafter, of course, things get a bit messy. But it’s Christmas, so we stop here.

“In some countries,” wrote Michael Ondaatje, “it is still the task of the writer to gather and to comfort in the hour before darkness.” The Gospel of Luke succeeds mightily. The chosen --- those God-fearing Jews --- become the saved. My boys, I like to think, are descended from both of these great traditions: They are the watchful waiting ones, and the ones to whom the gift is given.

We all are, of course.

As for other stories? Santa, I could take or leave. Rudolph too. I have little patience for jingle bells or endless purchases, and we live in Southern California, so there is no dashing through snow. The Grinch and Cindy Lou Who: They stay. The Peanuts Christmas special is aces. (Linus was among the greatest preachers of the 20th century.) But at the heart of it all lives Luke’s story about how, even in the darkest darkness, in the coldest night, there was light.

No better story than that.