It's December, and you all know what that means, right?
It's time for some Hearth's Warming stories! Christmas is great, and Christmas-analogues are great by association, I reckon. So go get a few seasonal reviews, below the break.
The Gift Horse, by Autumnschild
Zero-ish spoiler summary: There is a legend in Equestria: a legend which tells of a horrible bipedal monstrosity with a face that's half-equine, half-nightmare-stuff, who will bring you presents if you speak his name thrice: presents, and lasting psychological trauma. Today, the main six will receive both.
A few thoughts: Normally a fic in which "dude wearing one of those meme-y horse masks" is a major character would be far, far off my radar, but I was promised that this was funny enough to be worth. And wouldn't you know it, it is! This story leans heavily on its solo Random tag, but in the best possible way; rather than being filled with meaningless non-sequiturs, this is a patently absurd story which 1) actually tells a story, and 2) does so because of, rather than despite, its absurdity. The main six are all recognizable exaggerations of their canon selves, and the pun at the end is of the sort that is in no way worth it, which is the point (in case it's not clear, I consider that a good thing in this context. Your milage may vary). The two main downsides are that the story takes a little while to really get going, and that the story relies very heavily on the reader to "just go with it." If you can "just go with it," then great, but if not, this story won't do the heavy lifting on your behalf.
Recommendation: I can't recommend this to anyone who's intent on remaining obstinately grumpy toward a story with its premise, nor to readers who object to stupid jokes in general. For those looking for carefree ridiculousness, however, I can personally attest that this story is both funnier and simply better than its premise might lead you to expect.
Pipsqueak Plod and the Quest for Crackers, by Kegisak
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Spending his first Hearth's Warming in Equestria, Pipsqueak is shocked to learn that none of the holiday traditions he took for granted in Trottingham are present in this part of the world. So, with the begrudging help of Diamond Tiara, he sets out to find the one piece of Hearth's Warming which he and his dad have never done without: crackers.
A few thoughts: To quote myself, recommending this story elsewhere: "It's sweet, engaging, full of beautiful little flares, [and] heartwarming." Also, Christmas crackers are a tradition in my family which, before the advent of easy online shopping, often took some ingenuity and planning-ahead on the part of my parents, so I can relate to the central struggle better than some might (for those unfamiliar: a Christmas cracker is a small cardboard tube with a banger inside which pops when you pull the tube open. Inside you'll usually find a small gift, maybe a paper crown, maybe a paper with a couple of jokes on it... you know, the sort of stuff you find in a Crackerjack box. Put the tubes on your plates before dinner, and crack them open before you eat--make everyone where their stupid-looking crowns throughout the meal. They're great, and you should introduce them to your family posthaste. But I digress). Still, this is a story that's heavy on touching moments without ever getting sappy, and which is frequently funny despite never making a joke of itself or its characters. Combine that with the smooth ponification of British vs. American traditions, the easy relatability of the central conflict (not the crackers part; the "holding on to those wonderful hints of familiarity in an unfamiliar world" bit), and the seamless integration of the magical and more broadly Equestrian into the story, and this is one I loved, start to finish.
Recommendation: For fans of sweet stories with a serious core, this is a no-brainer recommendation. Although it's novella-length, it feels so much shorter than its 35k words that I'd still suggest it to readers who typically prefer shorter fare, as long as they have a couple of hours to spare.
Candy is Magic, by JMac
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Twist meets a buffalo calf who's away from home for an important holiday, and shares a bit of cheer.
A few thoughts: This is a very "cute" story, heavy on guileless foals and random acts of kindness. It's also rather telly, and awfully pat in a lot of places, not least of which is its core conflict. I also found Twist's heavily-written lisp an impediment to my enjoyment, but that's more a matter of personal preference. What JMac does well here is to capture the simple, straightforward style of classic light Christmas reading, and while the result is a little on the glurgy side, it avoids unfortunate implications in its narrative (if not necessarily in its buffalo's backstory) well enough.
Recommendation: If you're looking for something short, sweet, and above all, cute, this is a good choice; it's exactly the kind of thing you think of when you think of "Christmas stories," really. It's probably not what you're looking for if you want something that goes any deeper than that, though, or if you're looking for more than patness from the writing style.