Christmas in Crawford Falls, Oregon, 1963

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.

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

Christmas in Oregon, 1843

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.

Christmas in Morocco, c.1950

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

Christmas in Maine, 1858

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.

Christmas in an English village, 1974

The Christmas Mouse: A Story by Miss Read.

“The Christmas tree, dressed the night before by Jane and Frances—with many squeals of delight—stood on the side table. This table, spangled with stars and tinsel, displayed the Victorian fairy doll, three inches high, which had once adorned the Christmas trees of Mrs. Berry’s childhood. The doll’s tiny wax face was brown with age but still bore that sweet expression which the child had imagined was an angel’s. Sprigs of holly were tucked behind the picture frames, and a spray of mistletoe hung where the oil lamp had once swung from the central beam over the dining table.

Mrs. Berry leaned back in her chair and surveyed it all with satisfaction. It looked splendid and there was very little more to be done to the preparations in the kitchen. The turkey was stuffed, the potatoes peeled. The Christmas pudding had been made in November and stood ready on the shelf to be plunged into the steamer tomorrow morning. Mince pies waited in the tin, and a splendid Christmas cake, iced and decorated by Mrs. Berry herself, would grace the table tomorrow.”

Dora Saint, aka Miss Read, was a former schoolteacher who wrote novels of English country life, set in the fictional villages of Thrush Green and Fairacre. Village School, her first novel, was published in 1955, and Miss Read continued to write, with more than thirty books published, until her retirement in 1996. Miss Read/Dora Saint died in 2012.

The Christmas Mouse is a 172 page Christmas novelette set in the nearby village of Shepherd’s Cross. It is also available as one of three stories in the book, Christmas at Fairacre. The Miss Read stories and novels are a perfect fit for the Jan Karon fans, among I number myself and many of my friends, especially those who are also Anglophiles. Miss Read writes gentle tales of small town people going about their daily business with grace and dignity.

In this Christmas story, Mrs. Berry and her daughter Mary, both widowed, are preparing for Christmas with Mary’s two young daughters, Jane and Frances. There is a spiritual component to the story, as Mrs. Berry prays and hopes for Mary’s recovery from the tragic loss of her husband, Bertie, in an automobile accident. As the little family receives two unexpected “guests” on Christmas Eve, and an unexpected invitation, Mary begins to open her heart to wonder and even joy.

The theme of this story can be summed up in these words from Mother Teresa: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

It’s a good truth to be reminded of at Christmas time.

Poetry Friday: Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree

Apple Tree by Z-babyThe tree of life my soul hath seen,

Laden with fruit and always green: (x2)

The trees of nature fruitless be

Compared with Christ the apple tree.

His beauty doth all things excel:

By faith I know, but ne’er can tell (x2)

The glory which I now can see

In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought,

And pleasure dearly I have bought: (x2)

I missed of all; but now I see

’Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

I’m weary with my former toil,

Here I will sit and rest awhile: (x2)

Under the shadow I will be,

Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,

It keeps my dying faith alive; (x2)

Which makes my soul in haste to be

With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

I found several choral versions of this song, a poem/carol by an anonymous eighteenth century poet set to music by Elizabeth Poston. But I rather liked this solo rendition by Lee Farrar Bailey.

I’m thankful today for the rest I find in Christ the Apple Tree.

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.