So you want to write or tell a Christmas tale? If you can’t find an existing story, why not take one of your favorite stories and turn it into a Christmas tale?
That was precisely what I did when an international organization called upon me to tell a Christmas story to their volunteers.
Their core business was protecting nature, and their volunteers were very active. I could not see myself telling one of the Christmas stories I already knew. And then it dawned on me. Why not choose a story that would fit this audience and change the story into a Christmas story?
In this article, I will take you step by step through changing a story into a Christmas tale. Then, at the end of the article, I will tell you how it ended with this particular story for this environmental organization.
Find the body of your story
First of all, you need to have a clear picture of the story you will tell. Mainly of the inner structure, the skeleton, the body of your story.
Ask yourself what is essential to tell and write it down in no more than ten sentences.
Every morning you pick clothes to wear. Your body stays the same, but you look different.
With this story, we want to do the same. We keep the body of the story the same, but we will dress it in Christmas clothing.
What kind of Christmas tale are you aiming for?
The story you chose is about something. It might even have a clear lesson or meaning. There are different flavors in Christmas stories. Let me give you some examples of these flavors. Think about where your story fits the best.
The winter story: contrasts that get resolved
Many Christmas tales have more to do with the changing of the seasons than with what is told in the nativity story.
Those stories try to give people hope in the cold winter that spring will come. That the snow will melt. That light will return.
These winter stories thrive on contrast: cold vs. warm, dark vs. light.
Example: The Little Girl and the Winter Whirlwinds (see secular Christmas stories)
The caring for the poor story: a clear moral
Another category of Christmas tales involves the poor. The ones that have less than us. The ones in need.
In these stories, the central question is: Will the main character help the one(s) in need?
These stories are about morality, caring for one another, and giving something to the ones with less—all traditional thoughts associated with Christmas.
Example: Empty Hands (see heartwarming Christmas stories)
The uplifting story
Most people expect Christmas stories to have a good ending. After all, the lights are sparkling, we are together, and life is good.
Many Christmas stories are funny and have a good, warm ending. Some even with an unexpected twist at the end.
When working with such a story, you must ensure that the ending is not too sweet for your audience. Of course, we all long for a happy ending, but it does need to be believable.
Example: Changing my own Christmas Gift (see funny true Christmas stories)
The beautifully sad story
Christmas tales can end badly, but it must be a bittersweet ending.
A classic example of this kind of story is The Little Match Girl by Andersen. At the end of the story, many people have tears in their eyes, but they are not sad tears so much as they are tears of beauty.
Example: The Little Match Girl (see Christmas fairy tales list)
Change the clothes of your story
After you have found the body of your story and thought about what kind of Christmas story it could be, it’s time to dress your story in Christmas clothes. Think about these four aspects of Christmas tales:
1. Time of the year
A Christmas story takes place around Christmas. Does your story take place before, on, or after Christmas Eve? Or does it not really matter, as long as it is in the Christmas period?
2. Winter: cold & snowy
The Christmas period is traditionally cold (although Australians might disagree). It’s a period of snow, ice, and warm coats outside. Unfortunately, it’s so cold that you could freeze in the street, should you need to spend the night there.
3. Winter: dark
There’s a lot of darkness in Christmas stories. Literally, because most of the day it’s dark in the winter. What scenes of your story are in the dark morning or afternoon?
4. Contrast: warm & light
When parts of your Christmas tale are colder and darker, other parts will need to become warmer and lighter. Which scenes can be close to the fire, with hot cocoa and family around you?
You can think logically through your story as you change it into a Christmas tale. However, the best way to visualize the scenes of your story. That might take some time and not work on the first try.
I lie down on the couch, close my eyes and imagine the scene in the story that speaks the most to me. Often I will already have images of this scene. Then I apply a Christmas filter. I feel the cold, hear the snowflakes softly falling, and see the warm light inside the houses.
I work through the story scene by scene. However, when I’m tired, I leave the story and continue this process the next day.
Is it believable as a Christmas tale?
So you found the body of your story. You redressed it. You are ready to tell the Christmas tale.
One caveat: not all clothes fit everybody. Do you still believe in your story? Do the Christmas clothes fit, or does it feel contrived?
In the end, the only way you will find the answer to this question is by telling the Christmas tale a lot. Start with one or two listeners, and notice how people react to your tale.
Please don’t make it too obvious. Your Christmas tale does not need an ugly Christmas sweater, a Christmas hat, and a couple of reindeer. That’s too much.
Don’t forget that if you present it as a Christmas story, people automatically frame it that way.
How I turned a story into a Christmas tale
For the volunteers, I chose an old Scottish story involving some of my favorite fairy tale creatures: Selkies. Selkies are mythological creatures that can change from seals into humans and the other way around.
The story had a clear moral meaning. The main character changed from a seal killer into a seal protector.
I wrote down the bones and dressed it up as a Christmas story.
First, I imagined the story in a winter landscape. What were the consequences for this story? Then I imagined what it would mean to let the story take place during Christmas.
I realized that I did not need to overdo it. The Christmas connection could be a very loose one.
When the time to tell the story came, it worked. The organizer was happy with a story that fit the audience and the occasion well.
I wish you the same when you turn your favorite story into a Christmas tale.
💡 Once a month, I send out an email with new writings on storytelling and fairy tales.