27 November 2014

25 November 2014

Rudolph Day, November 2014

The last Rudolph Day of 2014 features two books:

12 Stories of Christmas, Robert J. Morgan
This is a sweet collection of Christmas stories with a spiritual bent, perfect for reading during the Twelve Days of Christmas. The tales range from nostalgic, such as the story behind a snowglobe that takes a boy back to 1943 when the family car is stolen, and the gentle story of a telegraph girl who searches a hospital for news of her brother at Pearl Harbor, and the story of an unexpected catalog delivery to an impoverished family during the Depression, to humorous, in which a teenage bookworm is persuaded to participate in his aunt's opus of a Christmas play and falls prey to stage fright in a delightful way. There are even romantic tales. My favorite ended up being the last, about the husband of a young couple awaiting the birth of their first child; he's encouraged to build a cradle by his wife, who's tired of him fussing over him. The result is a total surprise!

The volume is peppered with beautiful color photographs that relate to the stories without being actual illustrations based on the text. This is a lovely gift book for those who like heartwarming or spiritual Christmas tales.

An Old-Fashioned Christmas, text by Karen Cure
I almost didn't pick this book up because it looked as if it was mainly recipes, but for only a dollar I did anyway, and was unexpectedly delighted. The book does present recipes, but from different periods in American history, and, along with the recipes, Cure tells us something about each of the historic locations/homes in the book: Colonial Williamsburg, Winterthur Museum, and Sleepy Hollow Restorations representing Colonial America; Victorian America's homes: the Mark Twain House and Chateur-Sur-Mer in Newport. The Gallier House in New Orleans, the Conner Prairie Settlement, and Columbia, a State Park in California are regional representations. "Christmas With the Presidents," a series of recipes from George Washington's kitchens, and some vintage Christmas carols finish out the volume. Liberally illustrated, with a third of the photographs in color. Perfect for fans of Christmas and history.

23 November 2014

Merrymaking in the Midst of Danger

Especially for "Stir Up Sunday," the day when the Christmas pudding would be made so it could be soaked in brandy, cooked, and then put away until Christmas.

Christmas on the Edge of the Abyss, 1939

BBC's Christmas in World War II

London in the Blitz

British newsreel: Christmas Under Fire

From the series Wartime Farm: Christmas Episode

31 October 2014

Hallowe'en Viewing

Mellow viewing;
For Better or For Worse: "The Good for Nothing"

Cheesy, but fun, with Melissa Sue Anderson 180 degrees from Mary Ingalls:
Midnight Offerings

Not Hallowe'en necessarily, but spooky:
A Cold Night's Death

Suitable for small ones, but psychedelic:
The Worst Witch television film

More conventional school story:
The Worst Witch television series, starting with Episode 1

And then there's completely off the wall:
Paul Lynde Halloween Special

13 October 2014

A Pioneer Christmas

A Little House Christmas Treasury
This is a darling little book comprised of Christmas chapters from "the Little House" books, with the now-classic illustrations by Garth Williams in color, and decorative snowflakes scattered throughout. The Ingalls celebrate Christmas in Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, and finally in DeSmet, Dakota Territory, and the Wilder family has a feast in upstate New York. It will strike you all over again how little these children had, but who made their own fun in inventive ways, playing tea parties with leaves and acorns, cutting paper dolls from scraps of paper, just running and making "snow people" and having snowball fights, and how little it took for them to be happy: red mittens, a drinking cup of one's own, a stick of candy, a rag doll, a "boughten" hat. It also brings home the chill of living in a cabin where the only heat comes from a fireplace...in other chapters not included in this book Laura describes waking in rooms so cold that the nails in the wall are furred with frost, and the visiting relatives in these stories wrap in layers and layers of clothing and blankets in order not to be frostbitten on the sleigh ride home.

A super acquisition for your Christmas library, especially if you have young children—but it will make you count your blessings!

02 October 2014

Whetting Your Appetite for Hallowe'en

Some videos just for fun:

Bunnicula the Vampire Rabbit

Halloween is Grinch Night

"Trick or Treat"

Winnie the Pooh's Halloween Stories (complete with CBS Special Presentation logo!)

24 September 2014

Small Town Mystery Dressed Up in Bows

Silent Knife, Shelley Freydont
In this second of the Celebration Bay cozy mysteries, town events' manager Liv Montgomery is overseeing what plans to be the most beautiful Christmas the town has known. The square will be nostalgically dressed for the holiday season and all sorts of events are planned, but there's one fly in the ointment: the tacky new Christmas shop that has opened right on the square, spoiling its cozy nostalgia with windows festooned with drunken reindeer, beer-belly Santas under palm trees, and other tacky and inappropriate decorations, with the proprietor a grumpy Scrooge of a woman. Just when the town inhabitants think things can't get any worse, the man the owner of the Christmas shop hired to play Santa Claus has his throat cut in the store during the town Christmas parade.

Freydont populates her town with people you'd love to know: the friendly bakery owner who cooks delicious treats (even for Liv's West Highland White terrier), the gregarious coffee shop owner, the nurturing quilt shop owner, the ex-hippie natural gift shop proprietor, a friendly good ol' boys club of a town council, two darling elderly ex-schoolteachers, Liv's 60-ish assistant Ted who has daily "singing" bouts with Whiskey the terrier, the bewhiskered older man who always plays Santa Claus so well, one bitchy ex-events' manager (well, there had to be one unfriendly person in town), and even a sexy but usually diffident newspaper editor. The mystery is reasonably convoluted (although you know the nice people who are accused can't possibly be guilty of the crime), the Yuletide atmosphere so Christmassy it will make you hear jingle bells and shiver against the chill, and personal attractions begun are continued.

Readers of police procedurals and Nordic noir, take note: this isn't your bag, but if you're the type of person who likes cozies and Christmas, this book will be perfect for your holiday reading. It even ends up with a meal so luscious it will make you hungry, and some mistletoe. Enjoy!

23 September 2014

16 September 2014

A Simpler Christmas

Unplug the Christmas Machine, Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli
The Christmas Survival Book, Alice Slaikeu Lawhead
These two books were originally written within three years of each other (1982 and 1985, respectively; the Lawhead book originally titled The Christmas Book), and revised in the early '90s, and are virtual bibles for trying to change the conception of Christmas from a holiday of spend-spend-spend and false promises about what the holiday will provide. Lawhead does quote from Christmas Machine: the memorable "Ten Hidden Gift-Giving Rules," which are uncomfortably true. Both books address the same topics (children stoked with toy commercials who compose incredible Christmas lists, the reality of Christmas as opposed to the dream vision given to us by advertising, the fact that Christmas doesn't reform unpleasant families or crises) and even supply their own fictional tale of Christmas woe (Machine's updated version of Christmas Carol and Lawhead's Christmas Eve fantasy vs. reality). Machine provides a large appendix of alternate gift suggestions, addresses how men feel left out of Christmas celebrations and women feel overworked, and suggests ideas for simpler Christmases. The Lawhead book emphasizes spirituality more, even including a chapter of how churches unconsciously add to the burden of Christmas by scheduling too many events. It also mentions how traditions can be meaningful—or a burden. I was also happy to see that she talks about extending Christmas activities into Christmastide itself and through Epiphany, and there are suggestions for non-alcoholic New Year's Eve activities.

Even though they cover some of the same ground, the two writing styles are very different; both, if found, purchase both.

04 September 2014

Sweet September

Just when I thought summer would never end, September slipped in the door in the midst of DragonCon. You couldn't have told it by the weather, which has remained hot and steamy. But a few autumn magazines have already strayed my way, and the sky knows it's autumn if the sun does not. Today I found a Christmas magazine from the publishers of "Country Sampler." And I've been reading the first of my three pre-Christmas reads, Celebrate the Wonder: A Family Christmas Treasury.

It's usually the first because it talks about planning for Christmas as early as September, which may make some blanch, but Christmas has turned into such a circus of excess, and even more in the intervening years since this book was published in 1988, that it feels like you must start planning the holiday as if it is a military campaign. Never fear, this book makes planning a gentle thing; the authors' sole purpose is to start you thinking early, with gentle meetings, musical interludes, and thoughtfulness, so that your December does not become a frantic, stressful rush. The volume is Christian-centered, which may turn off some readers, but if you are more a secular celebrant there are many good ideas for simple crafts, ethnic dinners, and tons of snippets about the history of Christmas celebrations and about celebrations in other countries. While many of the illustrations are clipart-type simple line drawings, the book also features some wonderful 19th century engravings from Thomas Nast and other Victorian artists. One of my favorite parts are the bits of poetry quoted throughout, from unfamiliar European carols to familiar passages from A Christmas Carol. It makes you want to pick up a book of holiday poetry.

These days there is also a wonderful nostalgia factor to the book, as it was written just as the internet was aborning. Catalog shopping has been replaced by web surfing, but in the end the results are the same. If you have a chance to pick up this mellow volume at a used bookstore or library sale, it still has something to say to today's Christmas celebrants. My only quibble with it is that it does not address anything after New Year's, although Epiphany and its cast of characters (La Befana, Babouska, the Little Camel, etc.) are talked about in earlier chapters.

04 July 2014

Happy Independence Day!

25 April 2014

Rudolph Day, April 2014

I thought for April I would review the three "Christmas Around the World" books from World Book that I picked up at last month's book sale. It was a nice trip into the holidays in an annoyingly allergic spring!

Christmas in Mexico
There are certain Christmas customs from Mexico that have become universally loved, especially the poinsettia and, to a lesser extent, the piñata and La Posadas, and they certainly have their time in the sun in this book, but other charming customs come to light as well, especially the naciamiento, what the Mexican people call the Nativity scene. Like the French creche and the Italian presepio, the Mexican version mixes the traditional figures with those more familiar figures: people in serapes, tortilla makers, and other friendly faces that bring the world of the Christ child closer to His followers. Another custom I was not aware of was the performance of pastorelas, descended from the medieval mystery plays. A typical performance includes the Devil as a character who tries to tempt one or two humorous, but weak shepherd figures, but who is inevitably defeated by the angels. I also did not know the traditional Mexican celebration lasts all the way through Candlemas.

Christmas in the Philippines
The Filipino celebration, while highly Christ-centered, is also a time of great feasting and fun. Traditional Asian dishes with ingredients like coconut join foods of Spanish heritage, reflecting their history. While the Filipinos have and love Christmas trees, the decorations central to their Christmas are the belem (short for Bethlehem) or what we would call a manger or Nativity scene and the parol, the star lantern, which can range from a simple small wood-frame and colored paper decorations with a candle in its heart to huge pieces made of colored plastic and metal so large they must be carried on trucks. Celebrations revolve around church services and family, and end on the feast of the Epiphany, known as Three Kings Day.

Finally we travel from two warm locations to a cold one:
Christmas in Scandinavia
Portions of this book are expanded on in the Christmas in Denmark book, especially the story of Christmas seals and the Christmas plates, but its charm is that it includes the other Scandinavian countries, so there are pieces about St. Lucia Day in Sweden, specific culinary treats in each of the countries, Norway providing Christmas trees to barren Iceland (and one very special tree to Trafalgar Square, commemorating the British aide to Norway during World War II), the different aspects of the Christmas elves, and the Star Boys who see out the Christmas season on St. Knut's Day, January 13. Beautiful photos of candles and bonfires against the Christmas snow give this volume a warm, welcoming feel.