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!

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