What would a Victorian-era sailor, battling rough winter weather at sea, long for on Christmas Day? How does Mrs. Santa Claus — Goody to her friends — really feel about Christmas Eve?
Find the answers to these and other holiday questions by watching The Zephyr Theatre’s 12 Stories of Christmas online.
The short stories and poems are read by Charles Fraser, a St. Paul actor who will be familiar to Zephyr audiences. He was Peter Quince in “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the theatre’s first Shakespeare in the Park production in 2017. He portrayed Uncle Billy in the Zephyr’s 2018 production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
And he has taught many classes for the theatre’s in-school program and Studio A.
Now, he brings his calm, lyrical voice to a dozen Christmas stories, which will be available — one a day— on Facebook and The Zephyr’s website starting Dec. 19.
“We wanted to come up with a Christmas project we could do together,” said Calyssa Hall, The Zephyr’s executive director. “Having Charles read Christmas stories that we could post online seemed like a perfect project this year.”
The theatre was closed recently to audiences because of current coronavirus restrictions.
Fraser tackled the project with gusto, researching and choosing each reading. He said he gravitated toward old stories and poems that portray Christmas as less commercial than many contemporary tales.
He starts the story project with the very familiar “A Visit From St. Nicholas” — ’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house …. But most of the other readings are charmingly less familiar.
Fraser was delighted to discover Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, an American writer “who was crazy popular during her era, the 19th century, but is not well known now.”
Her poem “The Christmas Ball captures the spirit of the season, when Christmastime was more about gathering and friendship and gifts were small gestures of love,” he said. “The one that really gets me is ‘The Snow Maiden’”
The folktale about a little girl made from snow is hundreds of years old, first published in Russia in the mid-1800s.
“It was a great find,” Fraser said.
Another treasure was “A Christmas Supper in the Marais,” in which gala-going French ghosts get drunk on seltzer water, not champagne.
“I’d never read it,” the actor said, “but my mother, who grew up in France, knew about its author, Alphonse Daudet.”
The 12 Christmas readings
Charles Fraser, a St. Paul actor, will perform dramatic readings online of 12 Christmas stories and poems for the Zephry Theatre starting Dec. 19. Here are his 12 planned performances.
Dec. 19: “A Visit From St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore. Published in 1823, this beloved poem jollies up Santa and names his reindeer.
Dec. 20: “Papa Panov’s Special Christmas” by Leo Tolstoy. In this short story, a shoemaker in a Russian village is convinced Jesus will visit him on Christmas Day.
Dec. 21: “A Christmas Supper in the Marais” by Alphonse Daudet. Here’s a fun little French story about hotel guests who are ghosts.
Dec. 22: “Jimmy Scarecrow’s Christmas” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman. This short story by the prolific 19th-century writer tells the tale of a scarecrow who is heartened by a child.
Dec. 23: “The Three Kings” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The journey of the Three Wise Men is depicted in this 19th-century poem.
Dec. 24: “Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride” by Katharine Lee Bate. This poem portrays a feisty Mrs. Claus who is weary of all work and no fun.
Dec. 25: The Gospel of Luke: Appropriately scheduled for Christmas Day, here is the Biblical account (King James version) of the birth of Jesus.
Dec. 26: “Christmas Trees” by Robert Frost. One of America’s most celebrated poets, Frost wrote this poem about a country man who ponders selling his young fir balsams.
Dec. 27: ”The Christmas Ball” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman. Fairy folk romp in this poem.
Dec. 28: “Christmas at Sea” by Robert Louis Stevenson. In this Victorian-era poem, a sailor recalls the warmth of holidays with family while he is at sea.
Dec. 29: “The Elves and the Shoemaker” by the Grimm Brothers. A hard-working but poor shoemaker, the focus of this light tale, discovers he has an interesting workforce.
Dec. 30: “The Snow Maiden” by Alexander Afanasyev. Here’s the retelling of an ancient folktale about a girl made of snow.
To watch and listen to Fraser read a new story each day, Dec. 19-30, go to the Stillwater Zephyr Theatre’s Facebook page.
If you miss a day, go to the theatre’s website, stillwaterzephyrtheatre.org, to catch up.