27 December 2013

An Annual Event

"Christmas"—An American Annual of Christmas Literature and Art by Augsberg Publishing House
I became aware of these publications some years ago when three of them, for successive years in the 1980s, were available on a bargain shelf at Barnes & Noble. These oversized (as past nomenclature would have it, "the size of a Life magazine") annuals were published by a Minneapolis publishing house from 1931-1997.

Each annual had a standard format. The first part would always be a retelling of the Christmas story from the Bible in about a half dozen pages, accompanied by different art each year. One year it might be Baroque painters, another year it might be done in stained glass window style, another as a medieval manuscript. One year it was even done, amazingly, in batik! Other standard features would be several pages of Christmas carol sheet music, done in calligraphy, several pages about how Christmas is celebrated in other countries, and a "picture story," done until the 1970s by Lee Mero, which was a nostalgic feature: old-fashioned Christmases vs. new ones, country vs. city, etc. Mero must have retired or passed away, and it looks like his place was taken by "Memories of a Former Kid" artist Bob Astey, who also cartoons for Reminisce.

I happened to pick up half-dozen of these at the library book sale for a song ($1 each), and they were nice reading over Christmas. I found a 1958 and 1959 issue each, a 1970, 1973, 1973, and finally 1986. I found fabulous articles about the history of Christmas seals: Salzburg, Austria; how Christmas has been portrayed over the years in music, painting, films; George Frederick Handel; Christmas carols written in the United States; Biblical musical instruments; the various types of evergreen trees used at Christmas; Nurnburg, Germany; Michaelangelo; church organs; and the history of "The Nutcracker," and I've just scratched the surface. These are well-worth picking up if you find affordable copies!

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