Christmas in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1863

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Christmas in Ireland, c.1970

Rumer Godden’s novel, The Diddakoi, features a half-Romany (gypsy) and half-Irish orphan girl named Kizzy who after her grandmother’s death must come to live with the “gorgios”, or non-gypsies. One of those gorgios is Admiral Twiss:

“Admiral Twiss . . . made models, chiefly of ships, sometimes sail, sometimes steam; he never spoke to the village children, nor they to him—they were afraid of the eyebrows and moustache—but he made a model church, big enough for each child to creep into, and every Christmas stood it at the House gates. The church was lit up so that its stained-glass windows shone, every tiny piece perfect, and from inside came music, carols that Kizzy liked to think were tiny people singing—Prudence would have told her at once it was a tape—and at midday and midnight, bells would ring a miniature carillon.
In the wagon Kizzy could hear them and knew it was Christmas. Admiral Twiss, too, always sent Kizzy’s Gran a cockerel for Christmas, some oranges and dates, and a bag of oats for Joe. Sometimes Kizzy thought the oranges and dates were for her; sometimes she thought the Admiral did not know she existed.”

This one is another of my book-buying finds. I knew the author from her adult novels, In This House of Brede and Black Narcissus and also her doll stories for children. This story, of a child who experiences prejudice and bullying but manages to learn to trust the trustworthy adults in her life and with their help overcome the racist attitudes of her peers, looks to be a winner.

Christmas on Galveston Island, Texas, 1840

From Carol Hoff, author of Johnny Texas and Johnny Texas on the San Antonio Road, comes this story, Head to the West, of German immigrants to Texas in the early days of the Texas Republic. in the first chapters of the book, Franz and Rosa and their parents land on the Texas coast on Galveston Island on Christmas Eve:

“They worked until almost dark. With sunset a fine rain began to fall, but the norther the captain expected did not come. The sailors had built two shelters, enclosed on three sides with the sail canvas, open to the west for the fire. Inside they had laid mattresses from the ship, and each woman had carried in a little pile of her belongings.
After a supper of venison steaks broiled over the coals, everyone sat in the women’s shelter and sang Christmas carols. Rosa sat watching the flickering firelight on the faces of the shipwrecked singers as the lovely melody of ‘Silent Night’ flowed about them. Some looked sad and lonesome, and some afraid, but a few were gay with the love of adventure.
Rosa thought of the lonely stretches of sand and sea about them, the wind sighing around their makeshift shelter and the rain dripping from the canvas. She thought of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in faraway Bethlehem. ‘Franz,’ she whispered, ‘I think I understand about Bethlehem and Baby Jesus in the manger better than I ever did before.’
‘Yes,” Franz whispered back. ‘So do I.'”

This book is one I discovered on my most recent book-buying jaunt, at a Half-Price Bookstore in north Houston. I am looking forward to reading the entire story, since the first few chapters that I did read are wonderful.

Christmas in Cornwall, 1789

From Winston Graham’s second Poldark novel, Demelza:

“It was a fine night and an hour before Sawle Church choir had been up to the door singing carols. Demelza had never had much to do with religion but she still said the prayers her mother taught her, adding a postscript of her own to keep them abreast of the times; and at Christmas she had always felt an inward impulse to go to church. Something in the ancient wisdom of the story and the fey beauty of the carols tugged at her emotions; and with a suitable invitation she would have been willing to join the choir. She specially wanted to help them this evening, hearing their depleted voices struggling through ‘Remember, O thou Man’. But even her enjoyment of the two carols was a little spoiled by anxiety as to how she had best behave when they knocked on the door. She sent Jane Gimlett for the cakes she had made that afternoon and took down a couple of bottles of canary wine from Ross’s cupboard.

**********
Demelza nervously gave them all a drink and took one herself; she would almost sooner have entertained Sir Hugh Bodrogan than these humble choristers; at least she knew where where she was with him. She pressed cakes upon them and refilled their glasses and when they rose to go she gave them a handful of silver—about nine shillings in all—and the carolers crowded out into the misty moonlit night, flushed and merry and opulent. There they gathered round the lantern and gave her one more carol for luck before filing off up the valley towards Grambler.”

Christmas in Toronto, Canada, c.1937

Jane of Lantern Hill is one of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s lesser-known stories. (Ms. Montgomery is, of course, the author of the Anne of Green Gables books as wells the series about Emily of New Moon.) Jane of Lantern Hill tells the story of a girl, Victoria Jane Stuart, who finds out at the age of ten that her father is not dead as she had presumed, and soon after that Jane is compelled to go and visit for the summer with the father she never knew on Prince Edward Island.

This Christmas passage comes from late in the story when Jane is back in Toronto but has grown to know and love her estranged father very much:

The week before Christmas Jane bought the materials for a fruit-cake out of the money dad had given her and compounded it in the kitchen. Then she expressed it to dad.She did not ask anyone’s permission for all this—just went ahead and did it. Mary held her tongue and grandmother knew nothing about it. But Jane would have sent it just the same if she had.
One thing made Christmas Day memorable for Jane that year. Just after breakfast Frank came in to say that long distance was calling Miss Victoria. Jane went to the hall with a puzzled look . . . who on earth could be calling her on long distance? She lifted the receiver to her ear.
“Lantern Hill calling Superior Jane! Merry Christmas and thanks for that cake,” said dad’s voice as distinctly as if he were in the same room.
“Dad!” Jane gasped. “Where are you?”
“Here at Lantern Hill. This is my Christmas present to you, Janelet. Three minutes over a thousand miles.”
Probably no two people ever crammed more into three minutes. When Jane went back to the dining room, her cheeks were crimson and her eyes glowed like jewels.

I do think that perhaps this L.M. Montgomery book, one I don’t remember ever reading, will be my first read of 2018. Skimming it was a delight, and I’m fairly sure that reading the story properly will be quite a good way to start the new year.

I wish my copy were this Virago edition. I love the cover on edition pictured above.

Christmas in Sweden, c.1930

Flicka Ricka Dicka and Their New Skates by Maj Lindman

What a lovely Christmas gift this book, with its accompanying set of triplet paper dolls, would be for a doll-playing or ice skating little girl. Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka are Swedish triplets from the 1930’s who each receive a pair of “shiny skates on white shoes” for Christmas. The three blonde Scandinavians go to visit their Uncle Jon and Aunt Lisa after Christmas, and as they are out skating on the pond they make a new friend and have a rather breath-taking adventure.

This new edition of an old storybook, published by Albert Whitman & Company, comes with the afore-mentioned paper dolls. (DO NOT buy paperback editions of these books. The paperbacks are poorly constructed, and the pages fall out with only a little wear.) The illustrations, and the paper dolls, are beautiful, and the story is old-fashioned and charming, with just a hint of danger to spice it up. I loved these books when I was a kid of a girl, and I love them now.

The other books in the series are:
Flicka Ricka Dicka and the Three Kittens
Flicka Ricka Dicka and the New Dotted Dresses
Flicka Ricka Dicka Bake a Cake

Flicka Ricka Dicka and the Little Dog
Flicka Ricka Dicka and the Strawberries
Flicka Ricka Dicka Go to Market
Flicka Ricka Dicka and the Big Red Hen
Flicka Ricka Dicka and Their New Friend
Flicka Ricka Dicka and the Girl Next Door

The ones in italics are the ones I have in my library. I wish I had all of the others—and all of the Snipp Snapp Snurr books, too:

Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Red Shoes
Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Big Surprise
Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Reindeer
Snipp Snapp Snurr Learn to Swim

Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Buttered Bread
Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Gingerbread
Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Yellow Sled
Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Seven Dogs

Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Big Farm
Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Magic Horse

There’s something about twins and triplets that just intrigued me as a child, and these books still suck me into the small, simple world of a trio of Swedish sisters (or brothers) growing up in the rural halcyon days of the early twentieth century. If it’s idealized, then perhaps we can use a little of the ideal from time to time.

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 Kentucky, 1809

From Kit Carson, Trailblazer and Scout by Shannon Garst:

“The homemade crib in the snug log cabin of the Linsey Carsons was seldom empty. When on Christmas Eve of 1809 the thin wail of a newborn babe rose from the battered cradle, the little cabin was already fairly bulging with Carson offspring, and the birth of another baby occasioned little excitement.

Linsey Carson, who had to stoop when he went through a door, bent over the crib and made clucking noises at his youngest. ‘He ‘pears to be a mite runty,’ he commented. ‘Reckon we’d best give him a good-sized name to grow up to.’

So the child was christened ‘Christopher,’ an already illustrious name to which the child was to add further glory. However, his physical stature never grew to fit the name, so the name was shortened to ‘Kit’ to fit the boy. Always his father referred to him as ‘the runt of the litter,’ which designation never failed to make the boy cringe inside as though a burning iron had been thrust through his heart. All of his nine brothers were strapping fellows well over six feet when grown to manhood, but Kit never attained even medium height. Yet of the fourteen Carson offspring he was the only one to make the family name famous. Runty, sandy-haired and with pale eyelashes fringing blue eyes, he remained to the end of his days undistinguished in appearance, yet the germ of greatness slumbered in that undersized but sturdy body.”

The runt of the litter who grows up to be the greatest. It’s an old story that never grows stale in the telling. From David, the youngest of his family, who nevertheless kills the giant Goliath and later becomes King of Israel, to Peter the Great, youngest son of Alexey I and his second wife, Natalya Naryshkina, to fictional youngest sons who rise to greatness, there is a something about seeing the “underdog” become the hero that appeals to our sense of rightness and hope.

Perhaps it’s a little like the true story of the baby, born in poverty and obscurity, who became the mighty and resurrected King.

Christmas in Leipzig, Germany, c. 1735

The Twenty Children of Johann Sebastian Bach by David Arkin.

As a part of a large donation to my library of ex-library books, I found this wonderful book about Bach and his family. The author says that of the twenty children (by two successive wives), seven did not live. So, that leaves thirteen little Bachs to learn to sing and play music and compose music. It must have been a delightful household.

The book mentions Christmas:

“Most wonderful of all were the times when the family gathered together at holidays with their friends. Then the immortal music of all the Bachs would ring out for the earth and heavens to hear. Perhaps they would sing the Christmas Oratorio, or a cantata, or maybe they would just make up music as they went along.”

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio was composed in 1734, so that’s why I dated this Christmas post 1735. I think this celebration of music and Bach and his family would be a great read at any time of the year. The illustrations by author David Arkin are lovely and detailed pencil drawings of all the Bachs and their musical activities. David Arkin, by the way, was the father of actor Alan Arkin, and he wrote the lyrics to Black and White, a hit pop song recorded most successfully by Three Dog Night in 1972.

(So after writing this post, I went over to youtube and listened to some Three Dog Night: Black and White, The Road to Shambhala, Old Fashioned Love Song, Never Been to Spain, Joy to the World. Funny how a book about Bach can lead to a 70’s pop binge listen.)

Christmas in Florida, 1950

From the book, The Seminole Indians by Sonia Bleeker:

“Florida, of course, does not have a white Christmas. Usually Christmas Day is bright and warm. Everywhere among the Seminole settlements Christmas trees stand gaily next to the open chickees, their bulbs glittering in the warm sun. Everyone rises early, even though men, women, and children have been up late on Christmas Eve enjoying family reunions and gossip.

Before the holiday, the little sewing machine on the floor of each chickee throughout the settlements and reservations has been going full blast. The mother, or a little girl by her side, cranks the handle of the machine hour after hour, stitching yards and yards of bright-colored strips of cotton cloth. The Seminole have an excellent eye for arranging colors. They combine red and blue with yellow green, orange, deep red, rose, purple, and white. The colors are not thrown together at random. They follow a set pattern, and the Seminole women are extremely clever in designing artistic color combinations. Each strip has a different design; in some, the bright colors make a zigzag pattern. The mother sews and fits these strips into skirts for herself and her daughter and shirts for husband and son. Now gay new clothes are ready for the holidays. By Christmas Eve the sewing machines are all covered and will remain idle until after the New Year. Everyone is dressed in his best clothes.”