Posted in Short Stories

George MacDonald: The Gifts of the Child Christ

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In drawing the Jack of Diamonds for Week 22 of my 2014 Deal Me In project, I read George MacDonald’s short story “The Gifts of the Child Christ”.  This is the first work I’ve read by MacDonald whom I’ve heard of occasionally as a Scottish author who significantly influenced C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.  I originally picked this story because it had a Christmas-like title.  I was looking to include a Christmas story in my DMI list knowing full well that the story might not get chosen near the holidays.  It might get chosen at – say – the end of May.

My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.


According to, MacDonald lived from 1824 to 1905 and became known for writing fantasy stories for children (of which this is not one).  In reading about his writing, it seems the word “gentle” is often used to describe it.  Based on “The Gifts of the Child Christ”, I would consider that word to be appropriate, but this story is not gentle in a light-hearted manner.  It’s a strong gentle.  It reminds me of another “Gift” story – O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi”.   Whereas O. Henry’s story shows the intense sacrifice resulting from a couple’s love, MacDonald’s story begins with the selfishness of three people and a little girl entwined in their lives.

On Christmas Eve the church bells were ringing through the murky air of London, whose streets lay flaring and steaming below. The brightest of their constellations were the butchers’ shops, with their shows of prize beef; around them, the eddies of the human tides were most confused and knotted. But the toy-shops were brilliant also. To Phosy they would have been the treasure-caves of the Christ-child–all mysteries, all with insides to them–boxes, and desks, and windmills, and dove-cots, and hens with chickens, and who could tell what all? In every one of those shops her eyes would have searched for the Christ-child, the giver of all their wealth. For to her he was everywhere that night–ubiquitous as the luminous mist that brooded all over London…

MacDonald skillfully weaves the story by alternating between the points of view of each character.  This technique brings out each adult character’s self-absorbed isolation.  The point of view of the little girl serves not so much as a contrast to the adults but as an indication of the impact of the adults’ selfishness.  When a Christmas Day tragedy brings together the adults and the little girl, the path to hope and forgiveness suddenly doesn’t seem as difficult.

It would be very easy to put this story in the Hallmark Channel category; however, MacDonald’s writing contains a sadness, even in the end, that keeps it from being sentimental.  It makes me want to continue exploring his writing.



7 thoughts on “George MacDonald: The Gifts of the Child Christ

  1. I love George MacDonald’s writing. I’ve read Phantastes (very interesting and a little quirky), and The Princess and the Goblin, which I thought was my favourite so far, until I read At The Back of the North Wind recently. What a wonderful book! Its main character, Diamond, has such a lovely character. I’ve since read that this book was his masterpiece and I can well believe it. I can’t wait to read more of his works!

    1. At the Back of the North Wind sounds fantastic! I think that will have to be his next work that I read. I enjoyed this story very much. While I had heard his name on occasion, I’ve never known that much about him or his work. I definitely need to read more!

  2. I’d only heard of MacDonald as a children’s writer. I have his long work The Princess and the Goblin on my to-read list for any eventual challenge or sudden urge that needs me to read a children’s classic.

    I like MacDonald’s use of metaphor: “The brightest of their constellations were the butchers’ shops…” I can see the lights of the streets very well in my mind.

    1. This story could possibly be considered a children’s story, but it’s not fantasy like I understand a lot of MacDonald’s stories are. And like a lot of good children’s stories, it can be just as enjoyable to adults.

  3. This is a new writer to me, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for him now. I’ve also got a Christmas story on my list (A Child’s Christmas in Wales, Dylan Thomas). It hasn’t come up yet, and I’m wondering what it will be like to read it if I draw it in the heat of summer!

    1. I read A Child’s Christmas in Wales last year. I read it for a wild card that happened to pop up near Christmas. It’s a very good story no matter what time of year you might read it!

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