30 November 2008

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW: Uncle Toby's Christmas Book

illustrated by Julian Brazelton

Someone mentioned having borrowed this volume from the library on one of my Christmas groups, which made me curious. I have several collections of Christmas short stories or Christmas books where stories are included, and several are repeated ad infinitum, such as Pearl Buck's "Christmas Day in the Morning," Taylor Caldwell's Christmas story, etc. The copyright on this book is 1936, before most of these repeated stories were written, so when I saw an inexpensive copy of this volume on sale I put in a bid for it.

This is a well-worn copy that someone obviously loved for years. I can imagine someone in the latter years of the Depression or, especially, during World War II, getting some comfort and ideas from its convivial food-and-games section, with its suggestions for playing games like charades (including the very old-fashioned supposition that everyone has an attic filled with old dresses and suits for playing "dress up"). The one thing I was afraid I would get was half of the book being a reprint of A Christmas Carol, but I was pleasantly surprised to find only a read-aloud version (not Dickens' read-aloud version; I could tell from the modern colloquialisms inserted into the 19th-century text!). Appearing was another story I hadn't read in years, "A Candle in the Forest," about a poor family rich in love and the wealthy boy who is drawn to them. (This is a lovely story—I think I originally read it in "Reader's Digest.")

There is also a story about the Christmas Truce of 1914 I had never read before, two different Christmas memoirs by Theodore Roosevelt, one of my favorites: Lincoln Steffen's classic "A Miserable, Merry Christmas," and other vintage stories, poetry, and carols.

The only "fly in the ointment" of this volume is one of those sad little "humorous darky stories" that seemed to be so popular in those days. It is called "How Come Christmas?" and has some little boys and a minister having a rather minstrel-show like discussion of who came first, the Baby Jesus or Santa Claus. The story is, of course, all in dialect. I am not a person of color, so I cannot judge how angry this might make someone. For my part, stories like these from that era make me sad: that otherwise intelligent and creative people could not look beyond the color of someone's skin and see them as equal. I read this story thanking God that, except for a few misguided souls, we have gone beyond "humor" and attitudes of this sort.

A worthwhile volume to find if you are a lover of vintage books.


• Christmas Through a Child's Eyes, Helen Szymanski
Here's a great bedtime book for the Christmas season. These are very short personal memories about Christmas from over a dozen writers, many stressing stories of hard times during the Depression and World War II, when an orange and some candy was an exciting gift and that one special gift, even if it was used, could make your day. Some stories are about a child giving up a beloved gift to someone else who has nothing. All are heartwarming, although some are rather amateurish in style.

• Take Joy!, Tasha Tudor
From childhood reading the unforgettable The Secret Garden, I was in love with Tasha Tudor's lovely, delicate drawings and watercolors. I ended up buying a hardback of Secret Garden simply to get her color illustrations. Take Joy! is a mixed confection of a few Christmas stories and poems, Christmas music, small legends of Christmas, and a section talking of Christmas preparations at Tudor's Vermont farm, all liberally decorated with color and black-and-white illustrations of birds, children, biblical figures, Christmas plants, decorations, homes and fields of snow, animals, and of course the corgis of Tasha's "Corgi Cottage." For Christmas and Tudor lovers everywhere!

28 November 2008

A Happy Thanksgiving...and What Came of It

It was a nice quiet fore- and early afternoon. James had "paused" the pre-Macy's parade show so I could see the White Christmas Broadway cast performance while eating a nice bowl of hot oatmeal, and it was a jolly parade (except why can't Al Roker interview real people watching the parade rather than second-rate actors promoting their programs?). My favorite was the briefcase drill team sponsored by a men's clothing store! And I was right, the action did look spectacular on this television. I loved the wonderful zinnia/pumpkin/autumn leaf fall bouquets/garlands around Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer in the broadcast booth.

The National Dog Show followed. About one o'clock I had a sandwich to tide me over until dinner. I should have guessed something was up when the sandwich made me queasy. I took some Pepto Bismol and lay down for a half hour, but I was still not feeling well and developing a headache when we headed to the Butlers.

I thought the headache was simply from being hungry and had a few of Lin's little piecrust-and-cinnamon treats as well as the wonderful little appetizers brought by Leigh's friend Tony and his sister. A luscious turkey, some "roast beast," Ron's great mashed potatoes, and other goodies followed for dinner, with additional goodies of conversation.

Despite the food, I developed an annoying sinus headache and we headed home around nine o'clock. I sorted out my sale flyer clippings for tomorrow, got my clothes ready, and finally we gathered the trash for the pickup tomorrow and went to bed.

I set the alarm for 5:50, as my first stopping place was only a fifteen minutes' drive from the house. However, it was lucky today was trash collection day, as the alarm never did go off. (I checked it later; it's a seven-day clock and it turned out it thought today was Saturday.) I was fit to be tied as I got dressed; it was only thirteen minutes from the time I leaped up to the time I got out the door, munching a breakfast meal bar.

I wasn't out for a lot today and I was glad of it, as I could still taste dinner from last night—sigh...the next time I zero in on a pair of turkey wings, someone remind me, okay? my stomach just can't handle it anymore. I was looking for a larger memory card for my camera at Staples and did find it. Next I was going to Target with the idea of buying a broom vac. I was feeling so rotten when I saw the lines I said the heck with it. Instead I went up to the Town Center Office Depot and picked up something else.

Well, I had in my hot little hand a Barnes & Noble coupon for 40 percent off any one book if I used my MasterCard. I have a MasterCard that I don't often use, but I won't cancel it because it's my Sears card and that took me years to qualify for. Arrgh! When I got there it was only 8 a.m. and they weren't opening early. I did get some pumpkin loaf at the attached, open Starbucks for dessert, then went back to Costco (which wasn't open, but the gas station was), stopped at Borders for a few minutes, then went to Michaels.

I have to note that none of the places I went to were crowded. Staples was next door to Marshalls and there wasn't even a minor crowd there. Target had a lot of people, but it wasn't a ravening crowd as I'd seen in previous years. Not even Michaels was that all crowded. I didn't get much there; just some snowflakes for winter decorating and some "bling" for a gift.

By this time B&N was open. I had my eyes on Christmas Through a Child's Eyes, but almost bought Eden's Outcasts. But by this time all I wanted to do was get home, so I grabbed the Christmas book and made tracks home.

I have a part of my nose that was fractured 28 years ago, just before my birthday. Sometimes when it's going to rain (like tonight and this weekend), it starts to hurt. And now it was hurting to the point where I couldn't think of anything else but the pain. So when I got home I took some ibuprofin and did what I usually do after shopping on Black Friday—took a nap!

I was up at 1:30 to watch Rick Steves Europe and have my lunch, but the moment I put my glasses on, the pain started to return and the queasiness returned. Nevertheless, I went to Barnes & Noble at Akers Mill to get Eden's Outcasts (it's a biography of Louisa May Alcott and her father Bronson), stopped at Bed, Bath & Beyond to use a really good coupon ($10 off a $30 purchase) on a saddle stool, and then finally stopped at Michaels with my 50 percent off coupon for more rechargeable batteries.

This time when I got home I took some Tylenol. It took care of the nasal pain but not the queasiness, so I had James bring me home a plain baked potato for supper and we had the pumpkin loaf for dessert. Even the latter aggravated my stomach. Ugh.

Can't wait for this front to go through. In the meantime I'm going to finish this and take my glasses off, since my stupid nose is hurting again.

27 November 2008

Christmas is Coming!

Christmas is Coming

26 November 2008

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW: The Curious World of Christmas

by Niall Edworthy

New publication in the United States of a book published in 2007 in Great Britain. This is a gift-book sized volume that is, nevertheless, crammed with Christmas goodies: quotations both for and against the holiday (George Bernard Shaw's nay vote prominent in the text), odd things that used to be done during celebrations, such as the Asses' Mass, where a donkey was ridden into church and both the priest and the congregation were encouraged to bray, and just plain oddities, like King Henry II's jester who was known for his farting. The book is written in an informal, conversational style that does have a few scatological references—apparently those courtly old medieval types were really fond of farting and rude words relating to bodily elimination sure to make teenagers giggle.

Edworthy also traces the holiday history through the ages, Christmas symbols and customs, with text, diary entries, newspaper and magazine excerpts, etc., with iconic little drawings scattered within the text. A great book for next to the bed before Christmas, where you can read two passages or two pages.

23 November 2008

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW: Christmas Curiosities

"Old, Dark and Forgotten Christmas"
by John Grossman

The images of Santa Claus we have today are so ingrained and considered so "traditional" that it is hard to imagine that even 100 years ago the image of the Christmas giftbringer hadn't been standardized. This delightful little book is a fun read, watching the development of "old Santeclaus" from an early 1800s poem to the red-clad figure we know today, through a collection of images, mostly from old postcards, some from the United States and many from Europe.

Santa is such a genial figure today that it might seem horrifying to discover that early St. Nicholas characters carried around birch rods to whip naughty children or traveled with a devilish-looking character named the Krampus or Knecht Ruprecht who administered punishment or threatened to take disobedient children away in a sack.

Other photos show Santa conveyed by other means than reindeer, with more benevolent companions like angels, and other Victorian images for Christmas such as fairies, dancing food, animals celebrating Christmas, and...dead birds! Wonderful stuff; a great book for anyone interested in the history of Christmas.

22 November 2008

Prim is Proper

While James was at his club meeting today, I went to the home of a woman who does primitive designs. I had bought some of her things last year at the Apple Annie Craft Show, and she sent me a postcard about a sale she was having.

This was quite nice. I figured at Apple Annie she would have pretty much all Christmas designs and I wanted to see if she had other holiday items or even non-holiday stuff. She did. All of it was at least 25 percent off and most of what I bought was 50 percent off. One Hallowe'en item was 75 percent off (a little cornucopia), but she couldn't remember how much the original charge was and gave it to me for free! I got two small Thanksgiving items, a pumpkin with a star embossed in it with the words "give" and "thanks" popped up on wire and a tiny platter not more than two inches long that says "Happy Thanksgiving." I also got a little square that says "Life is short. Eat chocolate" and a little framed item that says "Love Abundantly" and two metal hearts with small bells in them and filigree openings that are supposed to be for Christmas but which I am saving for Valentines Day.

The rest were Christmas things: a small painted wood gathering of candles and a little primitive sheep with long black stick legs, and then the gingerbread stuff, which was all half off. There's a little holly-trimmed cup-and-saucer with miniature gingerbread men, candy canes, and other Christmas flora inside it, and a white metal cornucopia with the same contents, and then a gingerbread tea set with a cookie jar, a crock, and three nesting bowls. (These are all small; the "cookie jar" is about three inches tall and is the largest of the five items.) The ginger stuff is all for the kitchen.

If you are a primitives fan, you really need to be reading the magazine "Early American Life," and if you love Christmas prims, at least get the December and Christmas issues of the magazine.

I started reading the magazine once in a while when they had a New England article, but always bought the December and Christmas issues because the photos in the magazine were so nice. A few years back, the magazine almost went out of business. When it returned, I discovered they were having more historical articles which I was interested in. This year's December and Christmas issues, for example, besides showcasing several nice primitive-decor homes, have articles on ice skating, Christmas candy containers, tin cookie cutters, the surprising source of the College of William and Mary's founding funding, and holiday displays at historic sites.

21 November 2008

What, No Pumpkin Pie?

Debunking Thanksgiving Myths at Plimoth Plantation

Most of the myths about Thanksgiving were created whole cloth by the Victorians.

Not to mention that Plymouth Rock is a lot smaller than everyone thinks it is. The story of the Rock is rather odd. It was once more than twice as big and was in the middle of a Plymouth wharf. People walked over it every day and no one paid it any mind, until one day circa the mid-1800s they were planning to demolish the wharf and get rid of the rock. An very elderly man protested, saying his grandfather had told him that it had been handed down in his family that this is the rock the Pilgrims had used to "step down" from the Mayflower. ::cough:: They actually came ashore in smaller craft.

Since it would be terrible to destroy this historical artifact, they attempted to pull the rock out of the wharf area. It broke in half. They transported the part that broke off to a prominent place and labeled it Plymouth Rock. Then for years Victorian tourists were allowed to chip little bits off it as souvenirs. Finally they decided to mount a permanent and protective monument around it. They moved the stone again and it broke again. This time they glued it back together and put it in the little enclosure that it's in today.

And that's the story of Plymouth Rock! :-)


by Marian I. Doyle

This is another in a series of wonderful Schiffer price guide books like the Robert Brenner Christmas books, in which the "price guide" is in reality a very small part of the book and the volume is really packed with full color photos. This is Christmas ephemera from the Victorian era: postcards, advertising cards, magazines illustrations, engravings, Christmas cards, book illustrations, early photographs, and even a few magazine pages. The illustrations are peppered with text explaining the customs of the time, and passages from period writings, from Harriet Martineau's diaries of touring the United States in 1835 to late Victorian passages from magazines, along with other quotations. Delightful, eye-popping illustrations of winter sports, Victorian decorating, gift-giving and gift-bringing, the evolution of Santa Claus, and celebrating Christmas Eve and Day. You don't need to collect anything to enjoy this wonderful book!

19 November 2008

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW: Christmas and Christmas Lore

by T.G. Crippen

I found this book in the library last year after hearing it referred to by Bill Bryson as "scholarly and ageless." It is a much easier read than Miles' 1912 book about Christmas customs and certainly more readable than Dawson's Christmas: Its Origins and Associations from 1902, which seems obsessed with how royalty spent the holiday (and which I have previously reviewed). Crippen's 1923 book begins with the origins of the holiday, continues with the various symbols of Christmas, celebrations through the ages, and also covers the other holidays around Christmas: St. Thomas' Day, St. Stephen's/Boxing Day, Childermas, the new year, and Twelfth-Night/Epiphany. You will find sections about the origins of wassailing and regional customs like Hogmanay and the "Mari Lwyd" in Wales, and some old-fashioned recipes for what sound today like gastronomic indigestion and beverages guaranteed to have you under the table. What I finally purchased was a reprint copy from 1972. A great addition to the library if you are interested in Christmas history.

Here's Bryson's commentary about the book and Christmas in England.

17 November 2008

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW: The Modern Christmas in America

by William B. Waits

This is a different sort of Christmas book for me, as it is a sociological textbook, albeit one that starts with an amusing piece by Corey Ford. Critics of the 20th and now 21st century Christmas blame its excesses on "commercialization"—Mr. Waits (and what an appropriate name for a man who is comparing the old Christmas with the new!) examines a different theory: that the change of the United States from a largely agrarian nation to an urban one brought about the change from the idea of home-crafted personal Christmas gifts as being appropriate to the purchase of manufactured goods (since the seasonal lull for farming families would not happen to those employed in an industrial society, and thus no time for making gifts).

The main draw of this intriguing book is the reproduction of advertisements from the 1880s through the 1930s showing the change from the original manufactured gifts (notions or "gimcracks") to the simple elegant card to more expensive gifts, including those which years before would not have been considered gifts, like appliances, automobiles, and everyday clothing. There's also an examination of how advertisements made people think certain gifts (and therefore themselves) as inadequate, and also how the face of the woman consumer changed across the decades from the Gibson girl to the fun-loving flapper to the elegant, detached matron of the 1930s, and how advertisements composed after the closing of the frontier emphasized manly gifts for boys as a way of strengthening their manhood without a need for them to experience the frontier for themselves.

I quite enjoyed this...your mileage may vary!

16 November 2008


Gordon Pape and Deborah Kerbel

I don't usually like trivia books in question-and-answer format, Christmas or not, but I make exceptions occasionally. This little volume is packed with not only questions, but dozens of interesting facts in text about the hundreds of Christmas songs written over the years. It is divided into chapters like "The Earliest Carols," "English Carols," all the way down to chapters about media songs and Christmas songs written for children. Each chapter contains an introduction and then a few pages of narrative bookending the trivia questions. A great little book for those interested in the origins of the songs that crowd the airwaves in December.

The authors also have a "Quizmas" trivia volume.

13 November 2008

How You Know Christmas is Coming...

...the bellringing Hershey kisses arrive on television!

12 November 2008

It Wasn't Always Merry

Puritan influence in New England died hard: "Christmas in New England before 1860"

11 November 2008

Holy Lightbulbs!

James said he saw Christmas lights tonight on his way home, a few blocks away from Smyrna City Hall!

Martinmas Day

"One very cold day, near the city gate of Amiens, France, Martin of Tours saw a beggar who was freezing. He took his sword and cut his cloak in two, giving one half to the beggar. The next night, he dreamed he had given his cloak to Jesus.
St. Martin's Day marked the first day of Advent in the past. Back then Advent, like Lent, was a fasting time. Now it is seen as a period of reflection and preparation for the coming of the Christ Child, and today fasting is done only on Christmas Eve and involves eating light meals and fish rather than abstaining from all food.

Here are some good sites about St. Martin/Martinmas:

Feast of St.Martin (Martinmas)

Liturgical Year: Martinmas Traditions

St. Martin's Day: The Magic of Eleven

Eating a Goose on St. Martin's Day

The Celebration of St. Martin

Interesting that St. Nicholas, like St. Martin, rides a white horse!

We're having turkey tonight, not goose, but it's close! :-)

CHRISTMAS BOOKS REVIEW: The Life Book of Christmas

This is actually in three volumes, published in 1963. It originally came in a slipcover and probably looked quite grand. I bought my copy off eBay and it has become quite battered in the intervening 45 years (of course, I've become quite battered in the intervening 45 years myself! LOL).

The first volume is The Glory of Christmas, which illustrates the story of Jesus from the prophecies of the Old Testament to the original spread of Christianity. These volumes are mostly illustrated, and this one has some magnificent reproductions of medieval and Renaissance art. There is narrative, and some small stories and poetry in each section as well. The second volume, The Pageantry of Christmas, is illustrated with paintings, tapestries, woodcuts, drawings, and finally photos that trace the history of the Christmas celebration from the early Christians to ethnic customs brought to American from other countries. Touched on are St. Nicholas and the conversion of Christmas from a drunken feast to a family-oriented holiday.

The third volume, The Merriment of Christmas, brings the volumes to modern times. There are recipes, of course, as well as some Christmas crafts, a Christmas play, suggestions of old-fashioned games, and some literary selections, including Christopher Morley's "The Tree That Didn't Get Trimmed" and a humorous selection by Robert Benchley about Christmas feasts in the 1880s.

A nice collection for your Christmas library, but nothing essential.

10 November 2008

A Classic Christmas: The Ed Sullivan Show

I found this used in an FYE today and played it when I got home. It is a compilation of both black & white and color Christmas performances from The Ed Sullivan Show. The performers include The Supremes, Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis, Señor Wences, George Carlin, the Cowsills, and more.

The bad thing about this DVD is that to squeeze it into 46 minutes, several of the performances, like David Seville and the Chipmunks and Rich Little doing A Christmas Carol, are edited. On the other hand, what there is is delightful. There's a compilation of "Jingle Bells" made of cuts of different performers, including Paul Anka and Shari Lewis with Lamb Chop and Charley Horse. There is about one or two minutes of footage of New York City in 1960. The great Mahalia Jackson sings "Sweet Little Jesus Boy." A German children's choir perform. There are two performances by Jim Henson's original Muppets: once with reindeer characters and a second sequence with Arthur Godfrey.

And Topo Gigio closes the show by a'kissin' Eddie good-a night. :-)

Don't pay too much--but this is a great 1960s nostalgia item.

05 November 2008

"Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November..."

A happy Bonfire Night to our friends in England!