Christmas Through the Years

Flannery wrote about Christmases in the O’Connor home in letters to friends. No year is similar to the next, Christmases involved things from Lupus to book clubs, meatballs to swans, friends, and hennies. Through her correspondence, one can find out what Christmas Day and the days leading up to it looked like to her personally.


This Christmas season brought Flannery to live at Andalusia permanently when unbeknownst to her, she was diagnosed with Lupus. She wrote to her friend, Betty Boyd, that she was at Emory Hospital in Atlanta suffering from “AWTHRITUS.”[1] Flannery later discussed the noisiness in the home. Her mother, Regina O’Connor, was preparing for the Christmas Day arrival of refugees. Regina worried about having the property just right for their new guests. The windows needed cleaning, there were dishes to be scrubbed, and the birds and flowers required tending. They did not arrive when expected, but that did not quiet the preparations.[2]


This year Flannery received exciting news. Two stories she sent to the Kenyon Review, “The River,” and “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” provided a chance to win some money. On December 20, 1952, Flannery was awarded $2,000 for the Kenyon Fellowship.[3]Her excitement is evident in several letters she wrote to different people on that same day. She discussed how proud her mother was and disclosed her surprise and happiness for having won money for her short fictional work.


In the South food is something that defines us. This year, Flannery gave us a glimpse of what the O’Connor family was eating. According to Flannery, the holidays were exhausting, and it was a blessing that they were almost over. Thanksgiving feasts were still leftover, and Flannery wanted them all gone so that the Christmas cooking could officially begin. She demanded Regina prepare some meatballs and turnip greens for their upcoming holiday feast.[4]


The following year, Flannery was excited to write to her friend, Father McCown, about the new opportunities she had received. She had been invited by the Episcopalian church to join them for meetings about theology in modern literature.[5]She was very excited about this club, as she was deemed the Catholic representative of the club. Flannery planned to visit friends in Tennessee but ultimately ruled against it due to the Christmas crowds at the airports.[6]


On Christmas Day, she writes to Robert Lowell, a friend she met while in New York at the Yaddo Foundation. She shares a laugh over an incident involving herself, a bottle of rum, and some slippery stairs. She discussed how she planned to finish her book in the coming year as well as encouraging Lowell and his wife to move to the South to raise their daughter. She despairingly acknowledged the lack of education the next generation was receiving.[7]


On Christmas Eve, Flannery wrote Betty Hester after having returned home from a four-day hospital visit.  Her doctor told her to be grateful that although her joints hurt, at least she was alive. Flannery was able to push her Lupus afflictions aside and found joy in gifts she received from friends and family, such as holiday baked goods and a pretend spider to scare the nurses. At Andalusia during their departure, her room was repainted, and all of the pipes in the home had frozen. [8]


Her Christmas this year was filled with birds! In a letter to John Lynch on December 31, 1961, Flannery seemed tickled about the new additions to her bird farm. She bought a new pair of swans, which she watched happily, requesting that he and his family travel down South to visit her “personal zoo.”[9]


On Christmas Day in 1963, Flannery wrote more about her aliments. She had passed out the night before, which caused her mother a lot of grief. Regina had become more anxious about Flannery’s condition and had them skip Mass so that Flannery could rest. Ernest, one of the farm’s many inhabitants, was much more active, playing the role of the burro in two separate manger pageants in Milledgeville. As New Year’s Eve approached, Flannery was feeling better. But her low energy and the ice storm Middle Georgia was enduring, kept her resting in bed.[10]

Christmas of 1963 would be the last holiday season Flannery would celebrate. In addition to these select stories, throughout the years, Flannery wished many people a “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year’s.” 

[1]Flannery O’Connor, “Letters of Flannery O’Connor: The Habit of Being,” Ed. Sally Fitzgerald, (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux: New York, 1979), 22.

[2]Ibid., 30-31.

[3]Ibid., 48-49.

[4]Ibid., 189.

[5]Ibid., 259.

[6]Ibid., 261.

[7]Ibid., 311.

[8]Ibid., 422-423.

[9]Ibid., 459.

[10]Ibid., 555.

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