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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Reading at Christmas

We have so many Christmas books around, we have to put away much of our regular library to accommodate them each year.  That's fine by me.  These are books that I love to return to year after year.  It's also fun to find new stories to add to the growing collection.

Of course there are all the Dickens stories, collected in an attractive boxed version from the 1940's, including the perennial A Christmas Carol, and treasuries that contain things like The Gift of the Magi and each of the Biblical versions of the birth of Jesus.  But there are also new stories, one of my favorites by David Sedaris, Six to Eight Black Men.  This particular piece is contained in one of the best Christmas collections I've found, Caroline Kennedy's A Family Christmas.  Containing most of the well-known tales we expect, there are a few surprises, Sedaris' being the one that regularly brings out my family's Yuletide laughter.

Old magazines can be treasure troves for good stories.  While not "Christmas" tales specifically, Gladys Taber's Butternut Wisdom columns in Family Circle are perfectly charming accounts of New England country life.  They're equally good throughout the rest of the year, but at Christmas she talks of her cozy house, pets, Christmas trees, snow and a house full of family.  McCalls, Ladies Home Journal and other magazines of the type are equally good for holiday fiction, and non-fiction, alike.  They're also marvelous places to find some really fun, and sometimes tasteless, Christmas decorating and menu ideas.

Perhaps my favorite Christmas stories of all time are two by Miss Read.  The Christmas Mouse and Village Christmas are absolute musts.  The two stories, usually printed together, are perfect accounts of Christmas in the coziest English village of all time, her beloved Fairacre.  Read them once and you will find yourself revisiting them year after year, just as I do.

Not to be forgotten, a new discovery...  Journey Into Christmas is a collection of short stories by a writer named Bess Streeter Aldrich.  I'd never heard of Mrs. Aldrich or her writings before, but came upon them while looking for another book at the local thrift store.  To be honest, I picked it up because I liked the cover and thought it would look great with the other books.  Imagine my delight when I started reading.  These are pieces that talk about the kinds of Christmas' we can relate to as Americans.  Despite being set in the 1920's - 1930's, Streeter's stories still seem relevant, the surroundings she draws still recognizable, and the people likable.  I'm not through with the book yet, I hate to finish it, but I am loving each and every page and highly recommend it.

Finally, the one Christmas story that I've heard every year of my life, and the one that everyone in our family has to hear at least once, and perhaps many more times, each year.  From a 1940's Christmas book owned by my mom, Granny Glitten's and Her Amazing Mittens is the story of, obviously, Granny Glittens.  Granny is known for her skill at knitting mittens.  One year, after writing to "The Store" for the colored yarns that she requires, she's told that only white yarn is available!  Feeling hopeless and hungry, Granny retires to the kitchen to make dinner for herself and her cat, only to find that her cupboard is filled with nothing but jars of candy...  Colored candy!  Red, green, black...  Why, these are the colors she needs for her mittens!  Caught by an idea, Granny drops skeins of white yarn into pans of the melted candies, creating yarn flavored like chocolate, licorice, peppermint and wintergreen!  Now, not only are Granny's mittens sought after because of their appearance, but also because they are edible.  She's created a new product, as well as demand since those delicious mittens will have to be replaced each time the hungry wearer devours them.  Never explained is how through the simple process of infusing this wool with candy it also becomes edible, but I can suspend my belief in the interest of Christmas.  Granny Glittens few illustrations are charming, and are part of the reason I've loved this story for as long as I have.

There are countless wonderful stories for Christmas, and I hope to discover many more.  But, for now, I am content to read and reread all of my old favorites, preferably in the glow of those large, colorful Christmas lights that used to regularly adorn Christmas trees in years past, long before we worried that they could ignite the whole house.

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