Let's reflect on Alistair MacLeod's short story “To Every Thing There Is a Season.” The story opens with a paragraph that introduces us to the narrator (who was eleven years old at the time of the action), the time period (Halloween to Christmas 1977), and the setting (a farm on Cape Breton). The second paragraph sets the story's mood, which is mostly reflective as the narrator remembers the Halloween snow that year, noting how the snowflakes fell “in silence” and how he and his siblings “moved like muffled mummers” down the road. The next morning is “soft and still.” There is a calm here that extends over the rest of the story as the narrator remembers the weeks that follow and the lessons he learned.
The narrator is close to his parents and siblings. This is a family filled with love and respect for one another. The youngest child, Kenneth, is laughingly but kindly corrected when he mixes up Halloween and Christmas. The children worry about their father, who is ill, and they work well together as they do their chores. The whole family looks forward to the arrival of the oldest son, Neil, who has already been sending home mysterious packages that the children's mother won't let them open. Neil is the favorite of all his siblings, and he clearly loves them in return. He even takes them to church in a sleigh on Christmas Eve. The scene at the very end of the story also reveals how much the family members love each other. It is time for the narrator to learn the truth about Santa Claus, but his family shows him so gently that he handles the revelation well.
This story contains very little dialogue. For one thing, the narrator is focused mostly on his memories of childhood, and those are often more about impressions and scenes than actual words. Further, the quotations that are included take on special emphasis by their rarity. The narrator's mother's simple prayer of “Thank God” as her oldest son arrives home speaks volumes, as does Neil's response to the neighbors' questions about his father. Neil merely says, “Oh.” On Christmas Eve, the narrator's father tells him, “We would like you to stay up with us a while,” and the narrator knows that he is entering into a new phase of his life. Finally, the story ends with another quotation that is packed with meaning and sadness: “Every man moves on, but there is no need to grieve. He leaves good things behind,” the narrator's father tells him. The narrator thinks at the time that he is talking about Santa Claus. Only later does he discover the true meaning of these words.