Alistair MacLeod Short Story: To Every Thing There Is A Season (1977)

There are spoilers ahead, but this short Christmas story doesn’t need to be ‘unspoiled’ to enjoy over and over.

The narrator of To Every Thing There Is a Season is looking back at the Christmas he was a boy of eleven.

Christmas is a time of both past and present and often the two are imperfectly blended. As we step into its nowness we often look behind.

He remembers the clothes his mother hung on the line would be “frozen almost instantly and sway and creak from their suspending clothespins like sections of dismantled robots: the stiff-legged rasping trousers and the shirts and sweaters with unyielding arms outstretched.”

He remembers waiting for his older brother to come home from working on the “lake boats” on the Great Lakes of Ontario. He and his siblings leave everything they can for when he arrives, then show him “the fir tree on the hill” which they have been “watching for months” and “marvel at how easily he fells it and carries it down the hill.” His brother promises to take them to church in the horse-drawn sleigh. “We sing all the Christmas songs we know and watch for the rabbits and foxes scudding across the open patches of snow and listen to the drumming of partridge wings.”

The church is very beautiful at night with its festooned branches and glowing candles and the booming, joyous sounds that come from the choir loft.

He remembers that night–Christmas Eve–the younger children being sent to bed, while his father says to him, “We would like you to stay up with us a while.” He is old enough to know, but young enough to want to keep believing.

I am troubled myself about the nature of Santa Claus and I am trying to hang on to him in any way that I can. It is true that at my age I no longer really believe in him, yet I have hoped in all his possibilities as fiercely as I can; much in the same way, I think, that the drowning man waves desperately to the lights of the passing ship on the high sea’s darkness. For without him, as without the man’s ship, it seems our fragile lives would be so much more desperate.

Didn’t many of us feel the same at that age? Perhaps this boy feels it more keenly than some because his father is not well. Maybe making that transition to adulthood means, among other things, accepting the fate of his father.

“Every man moves on,” says my father quietly, and I think he speaks of Santa Claus, “but there is no need to grieve. He leaves good things behind.”

I read this story along with Marcie@BuriedinPrint. You can read her thoughts here.

Wishing you all Happy Holidays and Happy Reading! xo

8 thoughts on “Alistair MacLeod Short Story: To Every Thing There Is A Season (1977)

  1. Marcie McCauley says:

    I’m so glad you were inspired to read this one for this season too, Naomi! I think it’s amazing, how concisely he draws the scenes, pulls us into the holiday memories.

    And nice touch, putting your spoiler warning in red! Somehow, with such a short story, it doesn’t feel like you’re spoiling as much as it does with a longer story.

    If I’ve missed one of your Alistair MacLeod links in this summary, LMK!

    Alistair MacLeod Reading Project

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