25 May 2018

Rudolph Day, May 2018

"Rudolph Day" is a way of keeping the Christmas spirit alive all year long. You can read a Christmas book, work on a Christmas craft project, listen to Christmas music or watch a Christmas movie.

At this time of year, with the temperature already having reached 90°F, my mind has drifted somewhere cold. Not cooler, as in New England or Minnesota, but really cold: Canada. We went to Canada on vacation several times when I was a child, before terrorists ruined the world for everyone and you could just drive over the border with an legal ID and an inspection on the way back. I remember the French signs in Quebec (and having to advise my dad what to do at a gas station, as you could still get leaded gasoline in those days; I remembered that sans was French for "without" and the scientific name for lead being "plumbium"—thank you, science class!—so it was safe to use "sans plumb" gasoline in our new unleaded gasoline car) and staring at the beautiful St. Lawrence River from the heights of the Citadel, having a great time at Canada's Wonderland amusement park, visiting the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and driving to Niagara-by-the-Lake (and eating luscious cherries direct from the orchard on the way). I fell in love with Canada quite early in my life and regret I don't live close enough any longer to make trips there. Some of my favorite television series have even come from Canada, like the spooky soap Strange Paradise, Doctor Simon Locke (filmed in Kleinberg, Ontario), the fun kids' series The Forest Rangers, Kevin Sullivan's Anne of Green Gables and its sequel, and of course the modern Murdoch Mysteries! (Plus the first two Addie Mills' specials were filmed with Ontario standing in for Nebraska.)

Since I already had a book to read for July, instead of celebrating Canada Day, I'm here celebrating Victoria Day (May 21) instead with some Canadian-style Christmas books.

Christmas in Canada, by the editors of World Book
This entry in the World Book Encyclopedia "Christmas in..." volumes will put you in a holiday mood immediately, with its cover of the glowing Citadel overlooking the old city of Quebec, and following with an introductory chapter on "Christmas Lights Across Canada," the first Thursday of December when each city in the country turns on its holiday displays with the capital of Ottawa leading the way. Since the first explorers of Canada were French, French customs, like réveillon and Pere Noёl are discussed first, then following in close order are British customs (which from the majority of Canada's national customs derive), German, First Nations tribes that were converted by the French, and Ukrainians who settled the Canadian plains, and who celebrate their Christmas and Twelfth Night in January, based on the Julian calendar. Of course, each province has its own customs: for instance Newfoundlanders still practice mumming, Ukrainian families' celebrations featured a sheaf of wheat called the didukh which represents the family, Inuits hold contests and snowmobile races, "belsnicklers" still roam in Nova Scotia, and everyone enjoys the Santa Claus Parade from Toronto, originated by the now-defunct Eatons Department Store.

Color photos and illustrations illustrate all these customs, and two crafts, recipes, and two traditional Canadian carols, including "The Huron Carol," are included in this volume.

A Pioneer Christmas: Celebrating in the Backwoods in 1841, Barbara Greenwood, illustrations by Heather Collins
This is a sequel to Greenwood's classic A Pioneer Story (A Pioneer Sampler in the U.S.) about the Robertson family, a family of Scots descent who live in the Canadian backwoods in the 1840s, in which the simple, liberally-illustrated family story is broken between chapters to provide projects for young readers and also facts about the historic events behind the story. Once again middle child Sarah (the family consists also of the Robertson parents, older siblings Meg and George, middle brother Willie, little Lizzie, and baby Tommy, plus Granny Robertson) is the focal character as she participates in simple Christmas preparations (helping stone the raisins for the plum pudding, knitting gifts, making pine branches into garlands and pomander balls, and also preparing for the visit of her cousins Andrew and Sophie, who are expecting a baby. But will the snow make the visit impossible? The family also participates in a school exhibition and a "Christmas frolic" where dancing and music are held.

A plum pudding recipe and also one for permanent cookie decorations, plus instructions for making a pomander apple and other typical pioneer gifts are included. A nice peek back into when Christmas was a simpler holiday! I also applaud the illustrator for putting little Tommy in a dress as all small children would have worn in those days!

Christmas With Anne and Other Holiday Stories, L.M. Montgomery
This is a sweet collection of seasonal short stories written by Montgomery for magazines between 1899 and 1910, plus two Christmas chapters from the Anne books: Anne's gift of the dress with puffed sleeves during her first Christmas at Green Gables, and Katharine Brooke's eventful stay at Green Gables from Anne of Windy Poplars. They are not "great art," just gentle, happy little stories about ordinary people overcoming obstacles and celebrating a merry Christmas (or New Year's, as in several stories) even if in just the simplest manner. Several stories are about families reuniting accidentally after years of feuding; others are about wealthy protagonists deciding to help less fortunate neighbors. In one tale an old-fashioned aunt deplored by her niece provides a merry Christmas when the unexpected happens, in another a group of wealthy children bored by Christmas instead do something nice for a struggling family, in a third travelers stopping by a farmhouse inadvertently provide a happy holiday.

Best read with a cup of hot tea or cocoa, with a pet snuggling on your lap whilst listening to Christmas music. (Afghans and fireplaces also work. 😊 )

25 April 2018

Rudolph Day, April 2018

"Rudolph Day" is a way of keeping the Christmas spirit alive all year long. You can read a Christmas book, work on a Christmas craft project, listen to Christmas music or watch a Christmas movie.

Is spring the last period you would be thinking of Christmas? Yet the 2018 Hallmark Keepsake Ornament catalog is out already among the blooming flowers and the leafing trees. Since it is the season of blooming, for my Rudolph Day read I decided to stick with a greenery theme.

Pagan Christmas, Christian Rätsch and Claudia Müller-Ereling
Holly Fairy by Cicely Mary Barker
Fir trees, holly, ivy, apples, oranges, roses, poinsettias, mistletoe, incense, chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg...just some of the plants, herbs, and spices associated with Advent and Christmastide. If you're looking for a less traditional and a bit offbeat look at Christmas, this "ethnobotany" of Yuletide plants may be your cup of (herbal) tea. Authors Rätsch and Müller-Ereling dig into the pagan past behind all the flora mentioned above and more. Ever notice those cute little red mushrooms included in European Christmas illustrations, the ones with the festive white spots? Those are fly agaric mushroom and, when used in small doses, were used by shamans to reach "higher planes" of consciousness. Holly represented male sexuality and ivy female sexuality, and "The Holly and the Ivy" was originally a song about the battle of the sexes, not how holly mimed the life of Jesus; holly was also the greenery associated with Frau Holle, the Germanic goddess who shook out her feather pillows to make it snow. Many Christmas plants were considered aphrodisiacs, especially the mistletoe, which was banned from Christian churches for years even though holly and ivy were allowed. In Germany, pipe-smoking carved Father Christmases and "smokers" are common decorations, but what these St. Nicholases are smoking isn't plain tobacco, but "baccy," which contains hemp and other intoxicating weeds. Chocolate—chocolatl—was part of Mayan religious ceremonies and sometimes associated with cannibalism; today we eat chocolate figures molded in the shape of Santa Claus. Poppyseed, coca (as in Coca-Cola), apples (appearing in Norse and Greek myths), rose hips, boxwood, laurel, wines, and many more are investigated in this intriguing look at the pagan past behind some common Christmas customs. Reading this will make you understand why greenery was banned from most Puritan churches for years.

Liberally illustrated with photographs, advertisements, and old ephemera.

01 April 2018

Happy Easter!

25 March 2018

Rudolph Day, March 2018

"Rudolph Day" is a way of keeping the Christmas spirit alive all year long. You can read a Christmas book, work on a Christmas craft project, listen to Christmas music or watch a Christmas movie.

I'm still in "read a book for Rudolph Day" mode, but got a little delayed by James' hospital stay, which started out in a frighteningly abrupt manner that brought him to the ICU and ended up somberly twelve days later, with new protocols and routines for both of us. However, since it was Women's History Month, I decided to read something on that subject, and came across this little volume, which I had read before, but apparently had never mentioned in this blog.

"May Your Days Be Merry and Bright": Christmas Stories by Women, edited by Susan Koppelman
There is a genre of literature called "occasional stories," which, many years ago, were written for magazines, whether for sensationalized pulps such as "Black Mask" or "The Shadow" or for staid newsstand favorites like "Redbook" and "The Saturday Evening Post." Many of these "occasionals" were written for women's magazines and of this subsection there was a smaller genre of Christmas stories that usually revolved around home or family. You've probably read many of these if you are an aficionado of Christmas literature.

These are, in general, more obscure tales from noted writers like Edna Ferber and Dorothy Canfield Fisher, bookended by the Christmas chapters from Little Women and the story "Christmas for Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo," who are the "little women" one hundred years later, three daughters of a traditional Gullah weaver who was widowed in wartime. In between are such treats as "Old Mother Goose," about a despised woman from the wrong side of the tracks who longs to see the famous singer Thamrè—who is keeping a secret of her own), the enjoyable "Mrs. Parkins's Christmas Eve" (a bit of a cross between "A Christmas Carol" and the Christmas tale "The Water Bus") in which a parsimonious woman has a telling lesson on the day before Christmas, the chilling "The Twelfth Guest" wherein a family accidentally sets an extra place at dinner only to have a lost child show up at the door to fill it, the Damon Runyon-ish "The Nth Commandment" about an exhausted shopgirl supporting a sick husband and a child and the raffish man pursuing her, and Edna Ferber's pointed "No Room at the Inn" which rewrites the Nativity story as a modern-day refugee tale. The rest of the stories are swell, too, especially Fisher's often amusing "As Ye Sow" about a woman who discovers her little boys are tone deaf.

A great collection of Christmas gems, but without the mawkish sentiments that often accompany Christmas stories.

25 February 2018

Rudolph Day, February 2018

"Rudolph Day" is a way of keeping the Christmas spirit alive all year long. You can read a Christmas book, work on a Christmas craft project, listen to Christmas music or watch a Christmas movie.

Valentine's Day has come and gone. This year I had some time to take with dinner, and when James arrived from work, he discovered dinner nearly ready, a card and a gift, and a menu in French. (Let me say I know very little French. Le Menu was courtesy of Le Google Translate. 😁 ) We had lobster ravioli in a butter sauce I cobbled together from ghee, Kerrygold, and Smart Balance, with flavored vinegars and a little sweetener (it, amazingly, came out pretty well) with a cucumber salad. (It was supposed to have tomatoes as well, but I ran out of room in the bowl.) For dessert we had three selections each from a box of dark chocolate only Russell Stover candies. I gave James a book about a fighter pilot and a stand for his cell phone; he gave me Red, White, and Who: The Story of Doctor Who in America, which I dived into like a heated pool and didn't come out until I was finished.

Chocolates were the reason I chose the following book for this month's Rudolph Day reading:

Christmas in Belgium by the staff of World Book Encyclopedia
I started collecting these with the resolve that I was going to only pick them up at book sales and was not going to get any of the volumes about Christmas in hot places. But then I couldn't leave Australia out and when you start a collection you want to finish it. So I am trying to assemble the rest of the collection from inexpensive online sources.

I was particularly interested in Belgium because they combine two different cultures, the Dutch-speaking Protestant Flemish in the north and the French-speaking Catholic Walloons in the south (with a substantial German population as well). This is a really nice volume because it talks about how the two cultures enrich each other. Like the Dutch, they still celebrate St. Nicholas Day, like the French they include santons in their Nativity scenes, which, the book tells me, dot the Belgian cities and countrysides. As in all the World Book Christmas volumes, they tell you how Advent, Christmas, and Christmastide is celebrated with food, the growing popularity of Santa Claus and Christmas trees, Advent wreaths, and special cookies called speculoos, which you can buy here in the US as "Biscoff" cookies.

However, there are several unique aspects included as well: there is a piece on the Christmas Truce of 1914 during World War I, the famous lacemakers of Belgium (lace ornaments being popular on trees), Belgian chocolates (said to be the best in the world; Godiva is a Belgian brand), post-Christmas customs like "Lovers Day" and the National Horse Show, and the story of Begijnhofs, small towns of women in the post-Crusade era that supported themselves.

This is an excellent entry in the World Book Christmas series.

13 February 2018

Before Ash Wednesday Comes...

The 40-day period before Easter is known as Lent, a time when Christians prepare for the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a time when you fast from all rich foods, and people who are participating in the fast usually eat last hearty treats like pastries, doughnuts, cake, and pie on the day before Ash Wednesday. That is why it's referred to in the US and in France as Mardi Gras, which means "Fat Tuesday." The most famous Mardi Gras celebration in the United States is held in New Orleans, where parades, social organizations called "krewes" who supply the floats for the parade, candy and beads glitter the day.

Mardi Gras New Orleans

In England the day is called Shrove Tuesday, because the faithful went to church on that day to be "shriven" (confessed) of their sins and then took the next 40 days to do their penance. To use up all the fat in the household, traditionally pancakes were made, so it's now referred to as "Pancake Day."

Shrove Tuesday: What is It?

The Origins of Pancake Day

Pancake Day: Why Shrove Tuesday is a Thing - BBC News

Happy Pancake Day 2018!

What's the Meaning Behind Shrove Tuesday?

06 January 2018

For Love of Language and Christmas

A Book of Christmas, William Sansom
I found this book in a very funny way. I was just finishing the book Christmas in Pennsylvania and reading the bibliography. The author states that probably the best book he knows about Christmas was William Sansom's Book of Christmas, and I thought to myself that I should look it up sometime. A few days later I went by Atlanta Vintage Books on my way home from work. They only have their Christmas books out at Christmastime, and since December was upon us I hoped they had their small supply available. I was rewarded by a small stack of books on top of a small stool.

There on top was A Book of Christmas. It could have only been fate.

Oh, and Christmas in Pennsylvania was quite correct. This is a wonderful book. I have other histories (or "biographies") of Christmas, but Sansom's is told with delightful language—his opening paragraphs alone are poetic:

     What is the colour of Christmas?
     Red? The red of toyshops on a dark winter's afternoon, of Father Christmas and the robin's breast?
     Or green? Green of holly and spruce and mistletoe in the house, dark shadow of summer in leafless winter?
     One might plainly add a romance of white, fields of frost and snow; thus white, green, red—reducing the event to the level of a Chianti bottle.
     But many will say that the significant colour is gold, gold of fire and treasure, of light in the winter dark; and this gets closer.
     For the true colour of Christmas is black.
     Black of winter, black of night, black of frost and of the east wind, black dangerous shadows beyond the firelight.
     Darkness of the time of year hovers everywhere, there is no brightness of Christ Child, angel, holly, or toy without a dark surround somewhere about. The table yellow with electric light, the fire by which stories are told, the bright spangle of the tree—they all blaze out of shadow and out of a darkness of winter. The only exception is an expectation of Christmas morning, the optimistic image of sunlight on the snow of Christmas Day and a sparkling brisk walk through the white-breath frosty air. But it only lasts a short while, and has its own dark frame, made up of the night before and the early dark of a December afternoon.

The twelve chapters (with header drawings from "The 12 Days of Christmas") cover the spectrum of the celebrations: sacred celebrations, feasting, Christmas music, plays, literature, giftgivers, etc. in pages crammed with color and black and white illustrations, photographs, woodcuts, and engravings. Any Christmas lover should enjoy Sansom's tale-spinning of pantomimes, Krampuses, holly bushes, vintage decorations, "Merrie Olde England," sacred art, and all the trappings that herald Christmas.

02 January 2018

"Old Christmas" from the Source

December 25th: The Joys of Christmas Past, Phillip Snyder
When Snyder set out to do a book on antique Christmas ornaments, he found himself reading nineteenth-century newspapers on microfilm, chiefly from New York City. He was so enchanted by the reports of Christmas celebrations that he continued reading and came up with this book, designed to take you "way back when" to see how the holidays (and they were called that, even back then, because the custom was originally to give gifts at New Year) were celebrated.

Incorporating the words and descriptions of the unnamed reporters of the day, supplemented by a five-page bibliography and a dozen magazine articles, we discover the sights, sounds, and smells of the Christmas food markets in Victorian-era New York City and discover what prodigious feasts those who could afford them had; read about the racket that used to greet Christmas day, whether it be small boys with horns or men pounding gunpowder on anvils; the sheer fatigue of the overworked store clerks, delivery boys, elevator operators and other sales employees in the days when stores stayed open through midnight on Christmas Eve; the experience of a sleigh ride one snowy Christmas; the unfortunate drunkenness that accompanied Christmas celebrations; the first department store Santa Claus (and where that jolly old persona came from); and more, from Christmas trees to live evergreen roping to sacred music to the delightful experience of an elderly man "taking a slide" one Yuletide night.

Snyder takes care that the experiences sound as first hand as possible, taking his narrative directly from the newspaper reports, which gives you a "first hand" appearance that most histories of Christmas do not. In addition, the book contains old illustrations and woodcuts from newspapers and the reference books to enhance the experience (the development of the "look" of Santa Claus, street scenes, market scenes, etc.). If you're at all interested in the history of American Christmas celebrations (or non-celebrations, as in Puritan-influenced New England), you will enjoy this book!

01 January 2018

Not As Old As You Think

Christmas: A Biography, Judith Flanders
Flanders, who's previously described the Victorian home and the Victorian city in her immensely readable books, tackles the story of Christmas in this newest volume. She opens by reminding us that Christmas is a very different holiday depending on where you celebrate it, and everyone believes their Christmas customs are the authentic ones, when nothing could be further from the truth.

For instance, there is a notion that Christmas was "more religious" in the past, yet most of the writing about Christmas in the "goode olde dayes" is about eating and drinking. Texts from the year 389 and in the seventh century had clergy complaining about feasting, drunkenness, and gluttony. Indeed, for the first few hundred years, it was unthinkable to celebrate Christ's birth, as if he was "some pagan god." The date of Christmas was fixed on December 25 to coincide with existing celebrations (the Kalends, Saturnalia, Mithras's birth, Yule) and many pagan symbols were given Christian symbolism (Christmas trees from the "everlasting life" of the evergreen, holly standing in for the crown of thorns, etc.).

Flanders also discusses how "traditional" Christmas celebrations were said to come from the "days long ago" when some of them were only several decades old, how businesses were open on Christmas (so people could buy Christmas food and drink) until very recently, how those wonderful old country house celebrations you hear about (like Christmas at Downton Abbey) required a great deal of drudgery, dirt, and loss of sleep for the servants despite their being tales of revelry among the staff, and how Christmas advertising goes back to the 18th century and that people at the turn of the last century were already complaining about Christmas commercialization (and how wealthy young ladies already bemoaned the fact that their friends got more Christmas gifts than they did).

There are more detailed books about the "biography" of Christmas (which Flanders notes in her bibliography), but this is a great summary of all of the truths and the fallacies about the holiday season. Flanders even provides little icons in the margins to indicate which subjects she is discussing (a horn for music, a mask for revelry, a Santa face for the history of gift givers, etc.).

30 December 2017

Of Icons and Airplanes

Ideals Christmas, Worthy Media
This 2017 edition of the yearly magazine contains the usual complement of artwork, cozy photographs, poetry and essays. I was surprised this year to see an essay by a man, as the "Ideals" essays usually tend to be written by women. The Robert Frost "Christmas Trees" is also included, and there's an essay and poem by Edgar Guest.  I really loved the illustration opposite the title page; very stylized, like a 1930s or 1940s card, and the beautiful photograph of Beacon Hill in Boston in the snow.

Spirit of Steamboat, Craig Johnson
This is a dandy novella in the Walt Longmire mystery series. Before Christmas, Walt is visited by a young woman of Japanese ancestry who says she has something to return to the man who preceded Walt as sheriff of Absaroka County, Lucian Connally, a former World War II bomber pilot. She claims to know both Walt and Lucian, but they don't recognize her. Until she mentions the word "Steamboat."

It was back in 1988 when Walt, fresh in his sheriff's uniform, is coordinating a lifeline flight of a little girl who was burned in an accident. It is Christmas Eve and Absaroka County is in the midst of a raging snowstorm. The lifeline helicopter pilot refuses to go on to Denver, and there are no facilities to help her nearby. None of the other airplanes at the local airport is powerful enough to get through—except a World War II-era B25 named "Steamboat." Determined to save the child, Walt ropes Connally into flying the B25 to Denver.

Although how the flight turns out is not in doubt, this was a page-turner as the pilots and Walt keep "Steamboat" running and Walt also helps the attending physician keep the small child alive with the help of her grandmother. Erratic navigation, ice buildup, low fuel and open bomb-bay doors plague the flight, and there's a hair-raising conclusion to their rescue mission. Enjoyed this one a lot.

(I was also amused to recognize the procedure the doctor performs on the little girl as the one Steve McGarrett had to do on Danny Williams in the penultimate episode of the latest season of Hawaii Five-0.)

Back to Monroeville for Christmas

Tru and Nelle: A Christmas Tale, G. Neri
Nelle Lee and her friend "Big Boy" Carter eagerly await their friend Truman Persons on a sweltering December day in Monroeville, Alabama. They haven't seen Tru for two years; he's been living with his self-absorbed mother and new stepfather. They expect Tru will jump at the chance to live back in Monroeville with his beloved cousin Sook and her family, but instead at a custody hearing between his mother and his father, Tru baffles them both by choosing to go with his mother and be adopted by his stepfather.

Two years later it is Truman who is running back to Monroeville, having been stuck in a military school by his mother. He's convinced he's cursed, but when he find the most beautiful Christmas tree ever, he thinks bringing it back to Sook and her family is the one way to break the curse. Instead it it's only the start of an incredible series of adventures.

Neri's text, as in Tru and Nelle, mixes real-life events (the trial Amasa Lee participated in that inspired To Kill a Mockingbird, the incident with a bully that prompted the short story "The Thanksgiving Visitor," plus touches of "A Christmas Memory" with Sook and the fruitcakes, Truman Capote's experience with his mother and stepfather, a fire that destroyed the home of Sook, Jenny, and Truman's other cousins) with fictionalized involvement of Nelle with a murder trial and events around a rare snowy Christmas. The interactions between the kids is great, and Neri does not softpedal the terms of the time nor the racism, but it also seems like an "everything but the kitchen sink" drama, with the murder of the river merchant and the events with the tree and Truman's feeling of being cursed and the events with the fire all jockeying for attention. I think I liked the parts best which dealt with Truman's conflicted feeling for his parents and Nelle's and Big Boy's attempts to help him.

As a whole, glad I read it!

28 December 2017

Childermas Day

Childermas, or Holy Innocents Day, commemorates the slaughter of the children by the orders of Herod the Great after he was visited by the Magi following the star to the birthplace of the infant Jesus. Because of the horrific associations of the day, it is said to be bad luck to start on a project on this day.

Massacre of the Innocents - Wikipedia

Liturgical Year: Holy Innocents Day

Feasts and Festivals: Holy Innocents

27 December 2017

A Depression Christmas

Christmas After All, Kathryn Lasky
In 2001, the "Dear America" books were still in the middle of their run. This one caught my eye because (a) it was a Christmas book that took place during the Great Depression, which my own parents had endured, and (b) it was written by Kathryn Lasky, who wrote the Calista Jacobs' mystery novels for adults and some great novels for kids like The Bone Wars and Prank, the latter which takes place in East Boston. I opened it and was immediately transported into the life of Minnie Swift, age eleven, at the end of 1932 as the Depression closes its relentless jaws around her family. They've already closed off rooms to save coal, hardly eat any meat at meals, and her father comes home a little earlier from work every day. Minnie correctly deduces that this will not be a season of bounty, but one of want.

And then a surprising thing happens: the daughter of one of Mrs. Swift's cousins is sent to live with them after the death of her mother in the dust-scourged tiny town of Heart's Bend, Texas. Willie Faye Darling arrives encrusted with dirt, carrying a basket with a kitten whose nose and mouth she must siphon out three times a day to keep it from suffocating, meager clothing, and not much else. Minnie is astonished when Willie Faye reveals she's never seen a movie, doesn't know who Buck Rogers is, has never used an indoor toilet, and is frankly amazed by the hyperactive Swifts, including Minnie's super-intelligent younger brother Ozzie and her "distractible" and artistic older sister Lady, so Minnie figures Willie Faye will have a lot to learn from them.

What she, nor the family, knows is how much they will learn from this undersized, quiet refugee from the Dust Bowl.

The story pretty much paints a bleak view of the era, with her father eventually losing his job, friends who have had fathers disappear, seeing friends in bread lines, their visiting a shantytown. But the Swifts also manage to have good times and their ingenuity works to help them. Like my parents did, they forego other treats to attend the movies, make their own Christmas gifts, and find inexpensive amusements.

Only the epilogue comes off as slightly too fanciful.

Otherwise this is a magical book.

Once Again, A Gift from Joe Wheeler

Christmas in My Heart, Book 12, Joe Wheeler
Wheeler has done almost thirty of these little books that combine old Christmas stories from magazines with an original Christmas story he writes for each volume. The later volume also started including more modern stories from "Reader's Digest" and what you might call "Chicken Soup for the Soul" type tales, but nevertheless, all the entries are heartwarmingly appropriate, from the pre-1927 stories like "Christmas Bread" (written by Kathleen Norris, who was my mother's favorite author, and which has a woman surgeon as a protagonist) to 2000's "Merry Christmas, Mr. Keene," about a wealthy man and a Christmas pageant. There was even a Temple Bailey (author of the lovely "Candle in the Forest") story I had never read. This volume concludes with Wheeler's "Christmas Sabbatical," about a Ph.D. who lost track of life in his pursuit of a degree, and a wonderful opening essay about Joseph, the "hidden man" of the Holy Family, which including an excerpt from one of the Pearl Buck stories I had just finished reading yesterday.

Grab these when you can! They are out of print now, but occasionally turn up in used bookstores. I liked the earlier ones better, when he just resurrected vintage magazine stories rather than using the "Chicken Soup-y" entries, but they're all worth the trouble, just for his stories.

26 December 2017

Spend the Holidays With Pearl Buck

Once Upon a Christmas, Pearl S. Buck
I picked this up at a used book sale noticing it had the essay "Nineteen Stockings by the Chimneypiece," which was reprinted in "Reader's Digest" for so many years, and figured it would also have Buck's most famous Christmas story of all, "Christmas Day in the Morning," about the teenage boy who devises a novel gift for his father. To my surprise it is not in this volume, which is a combination of essays by Buck about various Christmases in her lifetime and short stories she wrote, including "Christmas Miniature," about a little boy who sneaks downstairs on Christmas morning, just to see if Santa has been, you understand, and ends up saving a very small life; "The New Christmas," in which a family of seven discovers a "new" kind of Christmas when it looks like they won't have any money for a big celebration; and "The Christmas Secret," about a couple who has adopted a Vietnamese child of mixed ancestry (this one annoyed me a little, as the couple appeared to be protecting a man who came off as a jerk, but which I believe was Buck's intent).

I loved both stories and essays, but found the latter fascinating learning more about Buck's life as the child of missionaries in China (missionaries who did not believe that the Chinese they were living among were "heathens" or not as good as white people). Her story about the Christmas they didn't celebrate because they were too busy keeping Chinese refugees from starving, or about the Chinese boy who turned up at their doorstep and whom they adopted, or about their almost being murdered when the Japanese invaded Nanking were quite affecting. My favorite essay was "Thoughts of a Woman at Christmas," which begins as an essay about Joseph and turns into one about feminism, and something I've been thinking for years, that the reason men want to entrap women behind veils or under burkas, or abuse them and abuse children, is that there are too many men who are really afraid of women, that a woman being as intelligent as they are or as strong as they are somehow demeans their manhood. Back in the 1950s, Buck was writing about issues that still trouble us today: equality between the sexes and equality between the races, and her anger about the injustices of mixed-race adoption are those I remember from Helen Doss' The Family Nobody Wanted.

As a bonus this volume contains pencil illustrations by Donald Lizzul. Worth your while.

25 December 2017

Old-Fashioned Christmases

The Children's Book of Christmas Stories, edited by Asa Don Dickinson and Ada M. Skinner
I picked this up at the Northside Library in the fall, a jacketless volume from 1913 that I knew would at the least contain either a whole copy of A Christmas Carol (as these books were wont to do) or excerpts thereof, and I was correct. In fact. the Cratchits' Christmas dinner is excerpted twice, under two different titles, as if the editors didn't even notice. And certainly there were the usual reruns: Andersen's "The Fir Tree," Ruth Sawyer's "Voyage of the Wee Red Cap," "Why the Chimes Rang" (a reworking of the story of the Widow's Mite, "Little Wolff's Wooden Shoes," and "Little Gretchen and the Wooden Shoe" (the last two prime examples of the noble small children in 19th century stories who know the real meaning of Christmas).

But there were several new ones that I found enjoyable. About four were stories gleaned from a 1904 volume called Kristy's Queer Christmas. Apparently the Kristy of the title is a little girl who gets sick at Christmas, and instead of being able to celebrate must stay in bed, so various guests and her relatives cheer her up with stories (rather like Alcott's Spinning Wheel Stories). These include "The Telltale Tile," about a poor woman who does a fiscal favor for an even poorer neighbor and finds her contribution repaid tenfold, and a story about a snowed-in prairie family. Several other stories were taken from that venerable children's newspaper "Youth's Companion," including "The Little Sister's Vacation," which made me angry until the end (our heroine, Peggy, is the one child still at home, and when her married sister and her professional sister come to visit, the mother drops everything to socialize with them, leaving Peggy—"Peggy is so handy!"—to plan the dinners, help in the kitchen, and ride herd on the married sister's three year old daughter, plus study for a Latin exam during her Christmas vacation!). Another was about Betty, who had to stay at boarding school over the holidays because there was no money for a visit home, and how she made the others staying there happy, and the third about a philanthropist who refuses to meet the people he gives money to, until his lost dog draws him into a mystery. Another boarding school story involves a little boy who cannot go home for the holidays.

One story I'd read before and liked seeing here was "A Christmas Matinee," about a wealthy girl who runs about with a fashionable crowd who does a good deed for a trolley driver in 1890s Boston. The familiar streets and trolley stops always make me smile.

A worthwhile purchase, even with the duplicate stories!

Christmas in the Air

As I mentioned, James volunteered to work today so he wouldn't get drafted, especially on New Year's Day. Plus it was double time and would make up a little for his three doctor's appointments last week. So this Christmas morning James was up at seven to work. I got to sleep in a bit.

James was twiddling his thumbs when I got up and had breakfast. I was changing channels looking for something Christmasy, and stumbled over Come to the Stable on FXM. I wish I'd known it was on. I hadn't seen it in years. It's not really a Christmas movie, but begins in winter when two nuns arrive in New England to try to found a children's hospital. I'd forgotten how funny bits of it was, especially Sister Margaret driving the jeep.

Tucker was very patient and waited for me to finish with the movie to go out. It was very cold out, in the high 20s with a sharp wind snapping the St. Nicholas banner and the flag. It felt good! There were high clouds and bits of sky showing as we strolled the neighborhood. Someone down the street was having company for dinner. The cars filled their long driveway and spilled out to the street.

James took a break before lunch and then we had presents! O, what a haul! Four books and two DVDs, the books all from my Amazon wish list: World War II in Rhode Island, Rhode Island Radio (with a photo of Jack Comley, my favorite radio talk show host ever), Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and Britcom FAQ.  The DVDs were both Rick Steves: his new episodes for 2017-2018, and all his specials (even the Easter special). I gave James two military nonfiction books, Andy Weir's new book Artemis, the second season of WKRP in Cincinnati, and a Jethro Tull concert DVD. And of course the chair he was sitting in! (We discovered Tucker sleeping in it last night, and it looked so sweet, the little dog curled up in the big red chair next to the Christmas tree.

Put on The House Without a Christmas Tree while we had lunch: our turkey leftovers from West Cobb Diner on Friday night, a clementine, and Terry's dark chocolate orange slices. Tried not to snack too much so we could save the calories for the feast at the Butlers!

While James waited for someone to call, I also washed some towels and unloaded and loaded the dishwasher and made the bed.

Spent the later afternoon watching The Homecoming and feeling very drowsy, so took a 45-minute nap (well, I tried to; I really didn't sleep much), then took Tucker for a walk, fixed him a special Christmas dinner with a little chicken broth and beef and carrot dog-food puree, got dressed and washed my face, brought James his shoes (otherwise he was ready to go) and a hairbrush, and put the gifts together.

At five o'clock James signed off having had nary a call, and we loaded up the car with presents and chocolate cake and were off to the Butlers to enjoy three hours of friends, food and fun. People had just sat down to dinner and we availed ourselves of apple cider basted turkey, spiral-sliced ham, pot roast, mashed potatoes, noodle kugel, sprouts, and carrots. Dessert was two homemade pies, fruitcake cookies, our chocolate cake and a coconut cake, and some Andes mints we also brought. Once the feasting was complete, we gathered in the living room for gifts. We got many lovely things, too numerous to list.

Journeyed home about eight, stopping at a housing plat along the way to see their decorations. One end definitely had a "glitter gulch"! Yet another lawn was covered with inflatables: two Mickey Mouses, a Minnie Mouse, a Minion, Olaf the snowman, Santa in an airplane, Santa with his sleigh, and about a dozen more.

Once home we watched the Call the Midwife Christmas special—very interesting story based around "the Big Freeze," the cold winter of 1962-1963. Will the actress who played Barbara not be in the new season? They have sent her and her husband the curate to another church for six months. I've always loved Barbara and will miss her.