Snow is lightly falling, making this open afternoon perfect for browsing the collection of Christmas books stacked on the living room coffee table. Just as photographs tease us into memories, so do books, especially Christmas books.
I begin with A Child’s Christmas In Wales by Dylan Thomas, which begins
One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.
I am tempted to quote the whole book. The lushness of the language, the warmth and the humor and Dylan’s ability to create scenes almost convinces me I once lived that life myself. I resist the temptation, however, but hope you will add this book–and read aloud to anyone who will listen–of this classic. My husband, by the way, once acted in a reader’s theatre production of the book and one of his first presents to me oh so long ago was a copy of the book. I remember reading the book aloud to each of my classes the day before Christmas vacation when I taught high school English.
Perhaps my favorite version of the Christmas story and one we have loved sharing with our children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, is Julie Vivas’s version of The Nativity with its earthy and charmingly humorous illustrations. Did you ever consider how difficult it would have been for Mary to mount the back of a donkey or how exhausted she was after the birth, handing off the new baby to Joseph? It’s all here—the scrawny angels, the crowds of people looking for an inn, the sheep who didn’t want to be left behind and the wonder, the joy, the awe.
No stack of Christmas books is complete without books by Tomie de Paola. I love his illustrations of Miracle on 34th Street, but even more special is The Clown of God, an old story he told and illustrated. Our copy was signed by dePaola in 1980 when I was working at a wonderful independent book store. The story, in case you don’t know is a French legend about a young juggler who offers his gifts, and a miracle occurs. Many years ago when I was on our church council I read this book for devotions at the start of the meeting. After reading each page I turned the book around to show the pictures–just like our kindergarten teacher did when we were young.
Next I browse Susan Branch’s Christmas from the Heart of The Home which is basically a cookbook, but each recipe is done in calligraphy and accompanied by charming illustrations. Branch also includes anecdotes and pieces of advice about celebrating the season.
Recipe for a Happy Christmas
Fill a house with equal parts of Love, Hope, and Peace. Add the Joy of children, the Strength of older people, and the Spirit of Christ. Spread over all the Blessings of Contentment. Season with the music of Laughter, and some Mistletoe Kisses warm before a crackling fire. Serve with Great Welcome, Much Cheer, and All the food in this book!
And there is lots of food in this homey book, but maybe this is the year to fix Orange French Toast or Chocolate Poached Pears, and then I’ll read once again A Cup of Christmas Tea by Tom Hegg.
When I open the Everyman’s Pocket Classics edition of Christmas Stories I see I have checked off several of the titles in the table of contents–stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, Willa Cather, Elizabeth Bowen and others, but, honestly, I can’t tell you the plot of any of them. I suspect I will enjoy re-reading them. Perhaps I should set aside the current novel I am reading and sink into this book, story after story.
Finally, I am intrigued by a little book I found recently in an antique shop, Readings and Recitations for Winter Evenings compiled by B. J. Fernie and published by The Christian Herald in 1895. I imagine a gathering of elegantly dressed men and women passing the book from person to person and each one reading aloud for everyone’s entertainment one of the selections by Dickens or Bret Harte or Mark Twain or Longfellow. What a civilized pre-Netflix idea!
At one time our collection of Christmas books was larger, but over the years we have passed many, like The Night Before Christmas, also illustrated by dePaola, on to our kids and grandkids. The pile on the coffee table is just enough to add to the blessings of the season.
Hot cider and a story are calling me! Happy reading!
An Invitation: What are your favorite Christmas books? I would love to know.