Christmas in New York City, 1835

A Dutch Christmas on St. Nicholas Day from Mary Mapes Dodge: Jolly Girl by Miriam E. Mason, one of the many volumes in the Childhood of Famous Americans series:

“First they all sang several songs. Then somebody told the story of the first trip good Saint Nicholas made across the ocean from Holland.
Finally, there was the sound of bells outside, then a tramping of feet. In a minute in came good Saint Nicholas, dressed in a bright red suit. He was carrying and enormous bag over his shoulder. A small boy followed him.
‘See, there is the little kabouter manikin behind him to help him with the presents,’ Sophie whispered excitedly. She exclaimed to her sisters: ‘The kabouter is the dwarf who goes about helping needy people.’
Saint Nicholas came to the front of the room. In a loud voice he asked if the children had all been good.
‘Yes, Saint Nicholas,’ they all answered.
‘Have you obeyed your parents and done your share of the work without complaining?’
‘Yes, Saint Nicholas.’
‘Have you been polite in church and not smiled or gone to sleep while the preacher was talking? Have you listened to him?’
‘Yes, Saint Nicholas.’
‘Have you been mannerly at table and not wasted your food?’
‘Yes, Saint Nicholas.’
‘Have you been rude to your elders, cruel to your pets, or lazy about rising in the morning?’
‘No, Saint Nicholas.’
‘Very well, then, I shall see what is in my treasure each of you. Come forward as I call your name.'”

Mary Mapes Dodge was the well-known author of many stories for children, including the famous classic Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates, which was featured in a previous “Literary Christmas Through the Ages” post, Christmas in Amsterdam, Holland, 1853. The biography, Mary Mapes Dodge: Jolly Girl tells the story of Mary’s childhood as she grew up among many friends of Dutch heritage in old New York City.

Christmas in Vienna, 1192

From Tales of the Crusades by Olivia Coolidge:

“Two days before Christ’s Mass, a minstrel wandered into a small town on the outskirts of Vienna. He did not sing in the marketplace, being French-speaking and in any case superior to the ragged crew thumping tabors who were already performing here and there and begging for pennies. This man was warmly dressed, though stained with travel; and he carried a viol on his back, which proclaimed he had some skill. Though he did not my any means look like a court musician, he probably at least could sing for his supper in small baronial castles whose rough owners cared less for music than for novelty.

It was market day when he appeared, strolling casually up to a crowd which was gathering to listen to a man preaching a new crusade. The speaker was a hoarse-voiced fellow, one-eyed and villainous looking, who had taken the Cross, he said, on account of his sins.”

The minstrel in this story turns out to be a spy, looking for King Richard of England who is late coming home from the Crusades. He goes to the court of Duke Leopold, to ask questions and perform for the nobility.

“Duke Leopold was holding Christmas court at Vienna with mumming plays and games of blindman’s bluff or forfeits. Presents were being given and received with gay flirtation. Dishes were brought into the hall preceded by trumpeters and outlined in flickering brandy. Jugglers, minstrels, and fools entertained the company, the court performers striving to add to their repertoire, lest it become stale. These last were not best pleased at the arrival of the minstrel, who had bought himself gay clothing with gold ducats he had concealed in the lining of his viol case. To the lords and ladies a French-speaking man was especially welcome, for the lays of chivalry had their birth in France.”

Read Ms. Coolidge’s Tales of the Crusades to find out what happens next at this medieval Christmas celebration.

Olivia Coolidge was born and grew up in England, but she came to the United States as a young woman and stayed to teach school and eventually to marry an American. As the daughter of an Oxford professor and an Oxford graduate herself, Ms. Coolidge saw the value of a classical education. Her books, about Greek and Roman heroes and other historical figures, are a classical education in and of themselves.
(Information about Olivia Coolidge taken mostly from Jan Bloom’s bibliographic resource, Who Should We Then Read?.)

Baker’s Dozen: 13 Books I Got for Christmas

All I really wanted for Christmas was books, books for my library and for my personal reading. So that’s what I got, and a lovely set of books they are:

1. The Father Brown Reader II: More Stories from Chesterton, adapted by Nancy Carpentier Brown. Doesn’t this sound delicious? Chesterton’s Father Brown stories, adapted for middle grade readers.

2. Pancakes, Pancakes! by Eric Carle. The edition I got is a small, child-sized book. Just lovely.

3. The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle.

4. Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace. We’re big Betsy-Tacy fans here, but I somehow lost my copy of this book in the series.

5. How To See an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman.

6. The Gardener by Sarah Stewart. A Caldecott Honor book.

7. The Child’s Gifts: A Twelfth Night Tale by Tomas Blanco.

8. The Black Star of Kingston by S.D. Smith. Prequel to The Green Ember.

9. Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis by Abigail Santamaria.

10. The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip and Carol Zaleski.

11. Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition by Karen Glass.

12. Our Island Story: A History of Britain for Boys and Girls, from the Romans to Queen Victoria by H.E.Marshall.

13. Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon.

I’m looking forward to reading the books that are new to me and placing the picture books in my library.

Christmas in Appleton, England, 1957

The Story of Holly & Ivy by Rumer Godden.

“This is a story about wishing. It is also about a doll and a little girl. It begins with the doll.

Her name, of course, was Holly.
It could not have been anything else, for she was dressed for Christmas in a red dress, and red shoes, though her petticoat and socks were green.
She was 12 inches high; she had real gold hair, brown glass eyes that could open and shut, and teeth like tiny china pearls.”

Such a sweet Christmas story, reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl, but much more hopeful, The Story of Holly & Ivy is one of Rumer Godden’s doll stories. And it’s illustrated by the talented Caldecott-award winning author and illustrator, Barbara Cooney. I would recommend this picture book for girls, or boys, who love dolls and who enjoy gentle stories about wishes coming true.

Some other doll stories by Rumer Godden and other authors that you and your doll-loving children might enjoy:
Mouse House by Rumer Godden. A mouse who hasn’t enough room in her crowded flower pot home goes looking for another house.
Little Plum by Rumor Godden. Nona and Belinda don’t like Gem their new next door neighbor, but they love the little Japanese doll in her window, whom they name Little Plum.
The Doll’s House by Rumor Godden. Emily and Charlotte long for a proper home for their doll family, but there’s trouble in the new dollhouse.
Miss Flora McFlimsey books by Mariana.
The Doll People series by Ann M. Martin.
William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow. William wants a doll so that he can learn to be a daddy.
The Mennyms by Sylvia Waugh. For middle grade and above readers, a family of dolls live secretive lives in an old house in London.

Christmas in Holland, c.1910

Kit and Kat flattened their noses against all the shop windows, and looked at the toys and cakes.

“I wish St. Nicholas would bring me that,” said Kit, pointing to a very large St. Nicholas cake.

“And I want some of those,” Kat said, pointing to some cakes made in the shapes of birds and fish.

Vrouw Vedder had gone with her basket on an errand. Father Vedder and Kit and Kat walked slowly along, waiting for her. Soon there was a noise up the street. There were shouts, and the clatter of wooden shoes.

“Look! Look!” cried Kit.

There, in the midst of the crowd, was a great white horse; and riding on it was the good St. Nicholas himself! He had a long white beard and red cheeks, and long robes, with a mitre on his head; and he smiled at the children, who crowded around him and followed him in a noisy procession down the street.

Behind St. Nicholas came a cart, filled with packages of all sizes. The children were all shouting at once, “Give me a cake, good St. Nicholas!” or, “Give me a new pair of shoes!” or whatever each one wanted most.

“Where is he going?” asked Kit and Kat.

“He’s carrying presents to houses where there are good girls and boys,” Father Vedder said. “For bad children, there is only a rod in the shoe.”

“I’m glad we’re so good,” said Kit.

“When will he come to our house?” asked Kat.

“Not until to-morrow,” said Father Vedder. “But you must fill your wooden shoes with beans or hay for his good horse, to-night; and then perhaps he will come down the chimney and leave something in them. It’s worth trying.”

The Dutch Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins

2014 Christmas Memories

This Christmas was the Christmas of the Meat Cleaver. No, the cleaver was not a gift. Rather, Karate Kid, my seventeen year old son, used a Meat Cleaver to cut the tape and ribbons on his presents. His sisters punctuated the gift-opening session with exclamations of “Be careful!” and “Where is the meat cleaver?” and “Don’t step on the meat cleaver!” I wish I had a recording.

The gifts most in use two days after Christmas: GoogleChrome, a device which allows us to “cast” a spell on our television and tell it to play movies from the computer or smartphone, and Rosetta Stone Polish, a computer program that is teaching three of my daughters to speak Polish. They can now say things like “napÄ™dy dziewczyna samochodów” and “kocham ciÄ™, mamo”. ???? I have no idea.

It’s been a Crafty Christmas for a couple of the daughters as they giggled and glued their way to several Christmas gifts and stocking stuffers of beauty and utility.

The songs of this Christmas: All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth, Joy to the World by Charles Wesley and Angels Strain to See by David Jackson.

It’s been a Christmas season for pies, lots of pies: pumpkin, cherry, apple, pecan and chess, to name a few.

The books we asked for and received for Christmas were many and varied:
For Engineer Husband, The Canon of the New Testament by Bruce Metzger and The Astronomical Companion by Guy Ottewell.
Computer Guru Son wanted and received a “nice copy” of Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter.
Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and Dear Elizabeth: A Play in Letters from Elizabeth Bishop to Robert Lowell and Back Again by Sarah Ruhl for Drama Daughter.
A Greek New Testament for Brown Bear Daughter who’s studying Greek in college.
For Dancer Daughter, Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science by John C. Lennox, and a slew of Agatha Christie paperbacks so that she can start her own collection.
Homesick Texan Cookbook for Eldest Daughter, who loves to cook and follows recipes carefully. And a French dictionary.
For Betsy Bee who is a Shannon Hale fan, River Secrets and Book of a Thousand Days.
Z-baby received and is reading This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl, a book about the girl who inspired John Green’s Hazel character in The Fault in our Stars.
And for me, a plethora of treasures including The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 by William Manchester, Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More by Karen Swallow Prior, Pied Piper by Nevil Shute, The Dean’s Watch by Elizabeth Goudge, Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon, and more.
No books were damaged or even opened by Karate Kid with the Meat Cleaver.

We’re back in our own home this Christmas, and all eight children are here for Christmas and for New Year’s Day. But we missed having my mom here since she’s gone on an extended visit to my sister’s home in Tennessee.

It’s been a Christmas to remember and savor. My children are growing up, not really children any more, and I treasure quiet times when we are all sitting around reading our books or watching White Christmas once more together or louder times of discussing our collective memories of Adventures in Odyssey or Sesame Street.

It was the Christmas of “carpe diem” (seize the day), but even more of “Carpe Deum” (Seize God), my prayer for all of us as we walk, dance, march, and run into 2015, meat cleaver safely put way for next Christmas.

Semicolon Book Recommendations

I just found this site, called Anne Knows Books, which offers personalized book recommendations for a reasonable price ($3.00 a month) based on a book profile that you fill out and update regularly. I also noted this post, Why I’m Not Making a Holiday Gift Guide by Alyssa at Everead, in which Alyssa offers to give you personalized book recommendations for yourself or for those who are on your Christmas shopping list.

Well, I generally give book recommendations at the end of the year to those who add a link to their “best of” reading lists at the Saturday Review of Books on the Saturday just before or after New Year’s Day. (The Saturday Review of Books, Special Edition for Book Lists will be January 3rd this time.) But I’d love to get a head start. If you have some Christmas shopping to do, and you’d like to buy a book for someone special, or if you’d like to have suggestion or two about what you might want to read next, leave me the following information, and I will suggest three or more books for you to choose from for your gift-giving. I need to know the gift recipient’s:

Age and gender
A few interests and hobbies
Two or three favorite books or genres, if you know

You could try Alyssa, too, or Anne Knows Books, and see if we come up with the same ideas. Have fun giving a book or two or three for Christmas. I’ll leave my suggestions in the comments section here, and I might compile them into a post at some time later in the season.

Merry Christmas to All

I was introduced to this beautiful Christmas song last Sunday at my church. I wish I had a recording of the more contemplative version that the worship team shared with us on Sunday, but this video is good in its own way. Canticle of the Turning is a song written by Rory Cooney based on the Magnificat (Song of Mary). The melody is the popular Irish tune “Star of the County Down” which first appeared as the song “Gilderoy” from Pills to Purge Melancholy by Thomas d’Urfey, published between 1698 and 1720.

I hope all of my readers are having a lovely and joyful Christmas. Don’t forget to come back on Saturday to link to your end of the year book lists at the Saturday Review of Books.

Praise be to the Almighty, in His time, the world is about to turn.

The 2nd Gift of Christmas at Lake Truckee, California, 1846

Margret [Reed] did her best to revive a few hours of Christmas joy for her hungry children. She’d saved a meager hoard for the occasion–a few dried apples, a few beans, a little tripe, and a small piece of bacon. The children watched as the treats simmered in the kettle, and when they sat down to this Christmas feast, Margret told them, ‘Children, eat slowly, for this one day you can have all you wish.’ For the rest of her life, not matter how grand a Christmas dinner spread on her table, Virginia never forgot what her mother did for them. ‘So bitter was the memory relieved by that one bright day, that I have never since sat down to a Christmas dinner without my thoughts going back to Donner Lake.'” ~Women of the Frontier by Brandon Marie Miller

The Reed family was a part of the famous, or infamous, Donner Party, a group of families headed for Oregon/California who attempted to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the fall of 1846. Many of the settlers in the party perished of cold or starvation when the winter snows trapped the group at Lake Truckee, now called Donner Lake to commemorate the unfortunate Donner Party. Margret Reed, her husband, James, and their four children—Virginia, Patty, James, Jr. and Thomas—survived the ordeal to settle in California.

Today’s gifts from Semicolon:
A song: One of my favorite songs by one of my favorite singers, Karen Carpenter singing I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.

A movie: I’ve become fond of The Ultimate Gift with a really aged James Garner as the grandfather/gift-giver. It made me feel old to watch and remember The Rockford Files when James Garner was young(ish) and played one of the great TV detectives. The movie has a great message, and if the plot gets a little thin at times, the characters and the heart make up for a creaky plot.
A booklist: Gift books for what they want to be when they grow up.
A birthday: David Macaulay, b.1946.
A verse: Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The entire poem has seven stanzas or verses.

Semicolon’s Twelve Best Adult Nonfiction Books Read in 2011

This post is the first in my annual, end of the year series of “Twelve Best” posts. If you want to use this list or any other links on this blog to shop at Amazon for your Christmas gifts, I will appreciate the support. And I think you will appreciate and enjoy the following books that I read this year.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. Semicolon review here.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. Semicolon review here.

Unplanned: The dramatic true story of a former Planned Parenthood leader’s eye-opening journey across the life line by Abby Johnson with Cindy Lambert. Semicolon review here.

For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb and the Murder that Shocked Chicago by Simon Baatz. Semicolon review here.

To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild. Semicolon review here.

The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe by Peter Godwin. Semicolon review here.

Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me: A Memoir . . . of Sorts by Ian Cron. Semicolon review here.

Lost in Shangri-la: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff. Semicolon review here.

Praying for Strangers by River Jordan. Semicolon thoughts here.

Little Princes by Conor Grennan. Semicolon review here.

Son of Hamas by Mosab Hassan Yousef. Semicolon review here.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy by Eric Metaxis. Semicolon thoughts on Bonhoeffer and the Cost of Discipleship here.

I read a lot of nonfiction this past year: history, biography, and memoir. If you are interested in any of the subjects covered by the above books, or if someone on your gift list is interested, I recommend all of these.

Semicolon’s Eight Best Nonfiction Books Read in 2010.