Back in 1996, the great cartoonist Tony Auth worked with me on “Josh Sees the Light,” the very first of the many illustrated, serialized Christmas stories we did together, both at the Philadelphia Inquirer and WHYY public media.
Every year since then, but one, I’ve done an original story or radio play for the holiday season. In 2000, the first four were published in a book that Tony illustrated, called “The Christmas Quartet.”
My last tale with Tony, “Come, They Told Me,” aired and ran on WHYY’s platforms in 2013. He died the next fall, a loss I feel always, but most heavily at the Christmas season when we used to have such fun together.
After I left WHYY, the Christmas story returned to The Inquirer for two years, illustrated by Tony’s protege, Rob Tornoe.
Over the years, I’ve written about elections, wars, disasters, papal visits, school strikes and World Series wins. But nothing I’ve concocted ever generated more kind comments and thanks from readers than these holiday tales. (And, to be candid, nothing occasioned more eye rolls from cynical journalistic comrades.)
This year, for only the second time since 1966, I find myself without a media outlet willing to bring the Christmas story to an audience. Now, The Inquirer is run by people with no memory of the old tradition, and they’ve moved on to other projects.
That leaves me a little wistful, but also a bit liberated. This year’s tale is more personal, more elaborate and less constrained by the conventions of newspaper prose.
It is a mostly true tale drawn from my own life. Only “mostly true” because where memory failed, imagination filled in the gaps. And in some places chronology and details were altered to serve narrative flow.
I hope you enjoy it. If you do, I’d be delighted to hear from you.
And if you don’t like it, that’s fine, but I honestly don’t need to hear that from you. Sorry to have wasted however much of your time it took for you to reach that conclusion.
Either way, I wish you a delightful holiday season.
This year’s story is called “Their Brave Delight.”