Currently Reading: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. Currently Re-reading: my favorite Christmas kid books
Turn on the Christmas carols and grab a candy cane, because my Christmas muse is still going full-blast. I just cannot get enough of this season. All I have to do is listen to O Holy Night before I am overcome with peace and hope and love and absolute happiness. And since I try to spend my life finding happiness in anything I can, I'm sucking the marrow out of this wonderful time of year. Nate and I spent one of the greatest Sundays of my life worshiping our Lord at church, finishing our Christmas shopping, strolling through the mall, and then finishing the night by wrapping presents and watching Rudolph and Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town. An entire day devoted to Christmas magic-making with the one I love? Perfect. :)
Our Christmas tree... why yes, our living room is snowing.
Tonight, I feel like reminiscing and revisiting some of my favorite Christmas books for children. (Warning: this is a LONG post... hope you stick with it!) As established in the previous post, when I think of Christmas, many of my thoughts and memories stray to my childhood. Christmas stories and books feature prominently on my shelf of Christmas memories. Unlike many of my memories, I can actually revisit my books- perhaps not reliving distinct moments, but remembering them with sharp clarity with every page I turn. So here are my musings on my favorite Christmas books...
I believe books and Christmas go together like cocoa and blankets... after all, the Christmas story started with a book- the best Book of them all.
"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.' Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:8) It gives me chills.
I don't know why, but Jan Brett books make me think of my mother. I have no doubt she read them to us, but there is no specific memory linked to this- only a deep feeling of my mother every time I open a Jan Brett book. One of my favorites is called The Wild Christmas Reindeer. Jan Brett is a wonderful story-teller, but the true magic of her books lies in her illustrations. The main story, of a girl with the daunting responsibility of readying Santa's reindeer for the big night, dominates the center panel.
This is a North Pole unlike any in other stories. Santa and the elves live on a Winterfarm, which is strikingly Nordic-inspired; the reindeer have such lovely names- Bramble, Lichen, and Tundra. Along the margins, a separate story unfolds, purely in pictures. All of her illustrations are rich in detail and color, fascinating to behold. I have always preferred words to pictures, but these continue to delight me, even as an adult.
Not the best shot, but oh well.
Who doesn't love Tomie dePaola? Especially when he is writing about a spit-fire of an old lady trying to make the perfect Christmas feast without magic- for "Christmas has a magic of its own." Be still my heart.
Merry Christmas, Strega Nona is by far my favorite Strega Nona book and never ceases to put a smile on my face. In fact, I just reread bits of it and I'm smiling away. The essence of Christmas is all here- the hurry, anticipation, excitement, and work of getting ready for Christmas. The comfort of tradition. Honoring the magic and love that celebrating Jesus' birth brings us. The bond of family and friends who come together to make Christmas special. It's the whole package.
"Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse." Priceless. Classic. When you think of how ubiquitous this poem is, it's hard to believe this poem was penned in 1822.
From that early beginning, Clement C. Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas" still speaks to children and adults, encapsulating the glorious anticipation and delicious mystery of Christmas Eve. Without Moore, our image of Santa would be very different- for starters, he would not have eight reindeer or fly in a sleigh. (Do some research on the history of Santa... it's fascinating!) What would Christmas be without this little gem of a poem? Personally, I have always enjoyed the version illustrated by Scott Gustafson (a Marengo native!)
The colors are vibrant, practically bursting off of the page. I want to crawl inside each picture and wrap myself in it.
Every Christmas Eve since my grandparents moved away, my sister and I pull out our battered copies of Little House books and skip to the "Christmas" chapters in each. As my sister keeps her hands busy (usually baking), I read aloud to her stories of Pa, Ma, Mary, Laura, and Carrie celebrating another Christmas. We smile, we laugh aloud, we wipe tears from our eyes, and then we sigh and look out the window, imagining Christmases of the past, and reflecting on our own fleeting presence in this world and the fragility of moments like these.
It is one of my favorite Christmas traditions and will always be part of the special bond my sister and I share. Last year, Nathan joined us at the dining room table, with his head in his hand, listening devotedly. And for the first time, all of the books were not lined up in front of me on the table. Instead, I read from A Little House Christmas- an actual collection of all of the Christmas stories found in each Little House book.
An amazing find (thank you, Jennifer) that seems to have been made for our tradition alone.
Finally, my Christmas experience wouldn't be the same without the little-known-but-oh-so-delightful Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree by Robert Barry. The plot is positively delightful- one that I think is entertaining to both children and adults. As a child, I always found great pleasure in the pattern of the story and the rhyme and rhythm of the words. The ending still makes me smile. But none of that explains why it's so special to me. Every year, my Oma will pull out a special stash of books that only appears at Christmastime. When I was young, I would read each of these books cover to cover- even the one that was only a book of carols. (I will read cereal boxes if I have to.) Anyway, our favorite was Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree, and like the amazing grandmother she is, my Oma would always read it to us.
We could read it ourselves, of course, but there is something so very special about snuggling next to someone as you are read to. We made Oma read this book to us so many times that even now, as I open the cover and start reading to myself, her voice echoes in my head. I can perfectly remember how she pronounces "Willowby" or how she reads "She gave it a chop, and threw away....the top!" with a perfect upward inflection. It is amazing how twenty-eight simple pages holds indelible memories of a grandmother who has been everything to me- a pretty large feat for one little book.
Just as Christmas has its own magic, so do books. The magic of books explains why we discuss them with each other, read them together, or seek them out in bookstores to wrap and give away for Christmas. Just like the newest Hallmark commercials proclaim about cards, books are not meant to be read alone. They are meant to be shared. When we share our books with each other, we forge bonds, reaffirm relationships, and create lasting memories. And we spread the magic.... the magic of love, comfort, and Christmas.