04 November 2003

Stepping Through the Glass of Time

December 25th: The Joys of Christmas Past by Philip Snyder

One of my initial library finds; this year I happened to do a search on it and found a nearly brand new copy for a reasonable price. I reread it all in one sitting yesterday while I was nursing a bum shoulder. Snyder makes no attempt to correlate yesterday's Christmas customs with today's, other than to say most of what we think of as "old traditions" only go back 100 years ago. Using old newspapers, particularly four different New York City papers, Snyder paints lovely pictures of the joys of past celebrations. One account of the food market once located on the site of the former World Trade Center is mouth-watering enough to make one hungry. Another chapter is a delightful narrative of a Christmas Day snow in New York City, when all the sleighers came out to play. A third has a vivid 1912 report of the first community Christmas tree in the United States and the people who came out to see it.

Snyder doesn't pass over the excesses of the season, however. One chapter is on old-time drinking habits and another outlines the plight of the shopkeepers and workers who once toiled past midnight on Christmas Eve and sometimes on Christmas Day to make everyone else's holiday bright.

The book is illustrated with old woodcuts and engravings from the very papers he quotes, but it's his prose and the prose from the past that makes this Christmas book bright indeed. Out of print, but well worth looking for at used bookstores or on used book sites.

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