Gerry Toner Channels the Spirit of Christmas

With encouragement from Frank Capra, he has been writing Christmas stories for decades

Super Lawyers online-exclusive

By Jessica Ogilvie on December 29, 2023

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When Gerry Toner got a letter from The Saturday Evening Post informing him that they’d accepted one of his Christmas stories, it was in response to the first submission he’d ever sent out.

It was 1979 and Toner was already working as a trial lawyer. But writing fiction had been a beloved hobby for much of his life.

“I’d always wanted to be a lawyer, ever since I was a little kid,” he says. “Writing was always the side passion, the kind of more romantic side of me.”

Toner found himself drawn to writing about Christmas early on, as a way to explore the curious and singular emotions that the season tends to bring out in people. He was inspired by old Christmas movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, which, he says, examine the changes of heart that come about when trees and lights start going up.

“[Those films] take Christmas seriously, in the sense that miracles can happen—they’re small miracles, but they happen inside of people,” he says. “It’s not a trip to the North Pole, there’s not elves jumping around and all that kind of stuff.”

Toner’s own experience of Christmas as a child was infused with loss. His mother died when he was 10, and as a result, the holiday season became a sentimental time involving memories and looking back.

“I got an affection very early on for the spirit of Christmas, and the type of almost Dickensian sense when I was young,” he says.

His stories aren’t saccharine, and they aren’t traditional. Many draw on his legal experience, such as the first short story in his collection, The Christmas Turkeys. In it, a woman working as the head of a university’s law library begins forging Christmas cards to the friends and relatives of people she knows, hoping to make peace between warring family members, play Cupid, and heal old wounds.

She’s discovered by a campus police officer, but her actions wind up do some good along the way.

“The Christmas story I’m interested in is not so much revolving around Christmas Day and Santa Claus as much as it is the Christmas season,” Toner says, “and what I perceived to be the change in people’s hearts and minds during that time.”

Toner’s stories have been very well-received. In addition to being published in the Post, his byline has appeared in Redbook, Ladies’ Home Journal and more. He’s published four books, and his writing has drawn the attention of Hollywood. Several of his stories were optioned by Dick Clark Productions and, separately, Reba McIntyre, although as is common with the entertainment industry, both fell through for reasons having nothing to do with Toner.

Still, Hollywood has aided him in other ways. Early on in his writing life, he received encouragement from the late film director Frank Capra, who helmed It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and more. After Capra’s last movie, which fared poorly at the box office, Toner wrote him a letter and, to his surprise, received a handwritten response. In return, Toner sent Capra one of his Christmas stories and received a glowing reply. They corresponded back and forth, and in one of his letters, Capra gave Toner some advice.

“He said, ‘Writing is something that you’ve got to do, because you can’t help it. … It’s like a disease, and the only solution is to write some more.’ I now write a Christmas story every Christmas,” Toner says. These days, Toner has slowed down his writing pace a bit. His children are adults, and he has a grandchild. But he still writes each year for his own enjoyment; fortunately for the Christmas-story-loving community, the spirit of the season still moves him.

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