Category Archive:Christmas

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.

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.

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.)

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.”

Today’s Christmas vignette is from the verse novel, Crazy by Linda Vigen Phillips, about a teenager named Laura who must cope with her mother’s bipolar disorder in an era when mental illness was a taboo subject. I’m not sure how far we’ve moved toward openness and understanding of mental illness and mentally ill people in the interim, but the book portrays the issues and the possible approaches to healing and resolution quite well.

Before everyone gets here, Mother and Daddy
will have her traditional oyster stew
while I stick to peanut butter and jelly.
Daddy will tell us again
how they had lutefisk and lefse on the farm
in Bemidji when he was a boy.

When everybody arrives we’ll gather in the small
living room, glowing with Christmas lights and candles.
I’ll get down on the floor and play with the kids
crowded around the tree.
Each of them will find a present with their name on it,
little junky toys from Woolworth’s I wrapped myself.
The adults will get louder and merrier
with each round of Christmas cheer,
and I will take pictures
with my Brownie Starfish camera.

I wonder
if nervous breakdowns
money worries
alcoholic tendencies
or stormy relations
will bleed through the negatives.

But for this moment
Christmas Eve is aglow
as it should be.

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.

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

From the book, Westward Ho! Eleven Explorers of the West by Charlotte Folz Jones, “Mapping the Path for Manifest Destiny, John C. Fremont.”

“A week later, on Christmas morning of 1843, they camped beside another lake, which Fremont named Christmas Lake. It is either present-day Hart Lake or Crump Lake. By this time, they were in the desert. Fremont described it as ‘a remote, desolate land.’ Having to spend Christmas in such isolated, barren, and forbidding land, the men’s spirits were low, so Fremont poured everyone a drink of brandy to toast the day. Louis Zindel fired the cannon and the rest of the men fired their pistols. They had coffee with sugar, then continued their journey.”

The eleven explorers in this rather lovely book are: Robert Gray, George Vancouver, Alexander Mackenzie, John Colter, Zebulon Montgomery, Stephen Harriman Long, James Bridger, Jedidiah Strong Smith, Joseph Reddeford Walker, John Fremont, and John Wesley Powell. I would imagine between the eleven of them there many, many Christmases spent in “remote desolate lands.”

I’m feeling as if my Christmas is shaping up to be rather remote and desolate, too, in spite of all the loving people around me and all the many blessings I have to be thankful for. The problem is not my surroundings or my circumstances. I just feel remote and not ready to celebrate Christmas. If you’re feeling the same way, maybe this post from singer and songwriter Audrey Assad will speak to you as it did to me.

The Secret of the Fourth Candle by Patricia St. John.

Aisha looked awestruck at the candles and then back at the presents . . . She knew at last why the little girl lit one more candle every week. It was in honor of a Baby called Jesus who was coming next week, and then all the candles would burn and the whole room would be white and radiant and the Baby would laugh and crow. She had never heard of Jesus before, for she was a Muslim girl, but she felt sure He must be a very important Baby to have the candles lit especially for His coming. And all those presents, too! She supposed they were all for Him and she wondered what was inside them—lovely little garments perhaps, and toys and colored shoes. She wanted to see Him more than she had ever wanted to see anything else in the world.

Patricia St. John spent over twenty-five years in North Africa and the Middle East as a missionary teacher and nurse. She wrote several books for children, both fiction and nonfiction, as well as an autobiography that Jan Bloom recommends in her book, Who Then Should We Read? I would absolutely love to have a copy of Ms. St. John’s autobiography, AN Ordinary Woman’s Extraordinary Faith. However, I will content myself with the children’s novels and stories that I do have in my library, including The Secret of the Fourth Candle, a Christmas story about a Muslim girl who discovers the true, true meaning of Christmas.

Other books by Patricia St. John in my library:

The Secret at Pheasant Cottage
Rainbow Garden
Star of Light
Tanglewoods’ Secret
Three Go Searching
Treasures of the Snow

Earmuffs for Everyone! How Chester Greenwood Became Known as the Inventor of Earmuffs by Meghan McCarthy.

Chester Greenwood was born on December 4, 1858. He allegedly had large, cold ears and invented earmuffs to protect those ears at the age of 15. Well, according to author Meghan McCarthy, Chester at least improved the idea of earmuffs and got a patent for his new, improved earmuffs.

Ms. McCarthy’s illustrations are not my style, bug-eyed people with big heads and little beady pupils. But others might find the cartoonish people set in simple scenes to be just right. To each his own.

I do think Ms. McCarthy does a good job of telling Chester Greenwood’s story, the story of an inventor and an entrepreneur who didn’t “change the world” but did make his own small mark on it. In 1977, the Maine legislature declared Dec. 21 (the first day of winter) as Chester Greenwood Day.