SILENT NIGHT, HOLY NIGHT
he first story I can remember hearing as a child was Dickens’ Christmas Carol . It was my sister, Mary Lou, who read it to me. This wasn’t a Christmas tradition, she read it to me all year round, over and over, from the time I was still in diapers.
A Christmas Carol was also one of the first books that I read from cover to cover, other than school assignments. Mary Lou was 15 years older than me. Her signal that it was story time was to begin playing the piano, a talent I never shared. If the story was to be the book I called “Scrooge”, the song would always be Silent Night.
Since I was not yet in kindergarten, the story required a great deal of explanation. I can remember the scene when Scrooge gets home and sees Marley’s face in the doorknocker. “He died seven years ago, this very night.” At this point in the story, my sister would look at me and always say, “Wouldn’t it be sad to die on Christmas Eve?” A few more bars of Silent Night would flow from the upright piano. “All is calm, all is bright. Round yon virgin mother and child,”
The Dickens classic clearly influenced my own writing. It taught me that a tale of the paranormal could be used to teach a moral lesson. From its beginning, the genre we call “horror” has done this. Mary Shelly clearly wrote of her concern about unchecked “enlightened” rationalism when she penned Frankenstein. Without that deeper meaning, stories that are just scary for the sake of scary always seem flat to me. Give me literature I can peel back and discover depth and layers of nuance.
“Holy infant so tender and mild.” A little Hummel figurine of the Christ Child had been placed in the crèche on our fireplace mantel and I was busy mixing eggnog when the phone rang on December 24, 1998. Mary Lou would not be coming over to my house as planned. She had been found dead in her apartment, it was a stroke, sudden and lethal. Somehow, I could hear her voice, once more asking me, “wouldn’t it be sad to die on Christmas Eve?”
Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace.
T.R. Heinan is author of L’immortalite: Madame Lalaurie and the Voodoo Queen.