Dec. 17, 2020

A Cozy, Humorous Holiday: Little Women/The Family Stone

A Cozy, Humorous Holiday: Little Women/The Family Stone

The March and Stone families give us the cozy, faithful and often funny holiday we all need this year.


Little Women (1933)

Little Women (1949)

Little Women (1994)

Little Women (2019)

The Family Stone

Download the Little Women ebook at Project Gutenberg


The ultimate cozy and humorous holiday: Little Women/The Family Stone

Watching a film adaptation of Little Women has been one of my favorite ways to celebrate holidays for years, along with a rewatch of White Christmas, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Family Stone and even Jim Carrey as an animated Scrooge in Disney's A Christmas Carol.

 Until now, I had never read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I know! not even as a girl, even though it seems to be a right of passage for most 12 or 13-year-old American girls.

By now I’ve seen and loved pretty much every film adaptation of Little Women, going all the way back to the Katherine Hepburn 1933 version directed by George Cukor, and the 1949 movie with June Allyson as Jo and Elizabeth Taylor as an unforgettable Amy.

One of my all-time favorite versions is Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 Little Women, with Winona Ryder as Jo and some of the best March sisters ever cast. It stars Christian Bale as Laurie and Eric Stoltz as tutor John Brooke. Remember him from Some Kind of Wonderful in the 80s? I crushed so hard on him. He's still a fox.

This version also has one of the best scores ever by Thomas Newman. It sets such a mood. I would listen to that soundtrack year round at a stressful desk job and it never failed to cheer me up.

I also happen to adore the 2019 version directed by Greta Gerwig. Saoirse Ronan is a wonderful Jo, so self-effacing, full of personal strength and conviction, and willing to sacrifice everything for it. 

And I loved Florance Pugh as Amy because she wasn't just a pretty shallow moppet who deserved many eye-rolls, but a woman with some emotional awareness and intelligence. I know it’s not exactly how she’s written in the book but why not update a little bit and give her bit more emotional strength. 

I thought Greta Gerwig’s version modernized and updated story to show how truly groundbreaking Jo's behavior was for the time — the rapid, time-shifting editing was a bold choice but I think it energized the whole story.

[film clip]

 So I started the book this past summer… and it didn’t vibe with me. At all. I felt so sad because I know this book is so beloved by so many people.

But then I started it again in late fall and suddenly it clicked. Christmas was the time our family was on its best behavior, the anger and tension melted away. Our family is part Swedish, so Christmas Eve was the big night, with a fancy dinner, boxes of homemade cookies and sweets, my grandma showing up with a scarf over her beehive hairdo, smelling of spicy Youth Dew perfume, the beautiful music, then Midnight Mass and opening just one present each. 

 Guess that's why I've always collected movies that have cozy  Christmas scenes or settings. The Family Stone comes to mind– if you've never seen that movie, don't miss it! I’ll put a link in the show notes. 

It’s set in the 72 hours around Christmas when a successful but buttoned down, control-freak businesswoman goes home for the holidays to her boyfriend’s… shall we say much more laid-back liberal family in New England. 

He plans to propose, but the family introductions don't go super well. She calls her sister to come stay for emotional support, and then every thing hits the fan. 

[film clip]

It’s hilarious and heartbreaking. Sarah Jessica Parker plays the business woman — if you love her in Sex and the City you'll love her in this. Diane Keaton plays the mom and she's just, well fabulous Diane Keaton.

The 1994 adaptation of Little Women is particularly wonderful if you want to cozy up with more traditional New England family life.

The Christmas scene from that movie has been part of my memory for so long, I could swear I have celebrated holidays in that little 19th-century sitting room.

So I had my little fake wood stove going one fall day, totally getting into the Christmas chapter in the Little Women book, set during a bitterly cold Christmas during the Civil War. 

The March sisters have been preparing for Marmee’s return from her volunteer work. Beth is warming Marmee’s slippers by fire.  Once she’s home, Marmee invites the girls to play a metaphoric Pilgrims' Progress with their emotional burdens during the long cold winter.  Now that is a mother warming her feet and her wisdom by the fire.

 ”We never are too old for this, my dear, because it is a play we are playing all the time in one way or another. Our burdens are here, our road is before us, and the longing for goodness and happiness is the guide that leads us through many troubles and mistakes to the peace which is a true Celestial City.”

{film clip]

“Jo was the first to wake in the gray dawn of Christmas morning. No stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a moment she felt as much disappointed as she did long ago, when her little sock fell down because it was crammed so full of goodies. Then she remembered her mother's promise and, slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a little crimson-covered book. She knew it very well, for it was that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived, and Jo felt that it was a true guidebook for any pilgrim going on a long journey.”

[Film clip ]

"Merry Christmas, little daughters! I'm glad you began at once, and hope you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little newborn baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there, and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?" 

They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and for a minute no one spoke, Only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously, "I'm so glad you came before we began!" 

[Film clip]

“That was a very happy breakfast, though they didn't get any of it. And when they went away, leaving comfort behind, I think there were not in all the city four merrier people than the hungry little girls who gave away their breakfasts and contented themselves with bread and milk on Christmas morning. 'That's loving our neighbor better than ourselves, and I like it,' said Meg.”

Wishing all of my listeners who celebrate around this time of year a very happy holiday. Special shoutout to my listeners in the UK (oh England, how I miss you) and Germany ( hi Beate!) .

If you enjoy this podcast, I hope you'll consider sharing it from your podcast app or telling a friend about it.

Music in this episode is Pastoral: a Christmas Meditation by Dee Yan-Key from under a Creative Commons license.

Until next time, wishing you shame- free holiday romance!