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.

Thanksgiving Repentance

Senator James Harlan of Iowa, whose daughter later married President Lincoln’s son Robert, introduced a resolution in the Senate on March 2, 1863. The resolution asked President Lincoln to proclaim a national day of prayer and fasting. The resolution was adopted on March 3rd, and signed by Lincoln on March 30th, one month before the fast day was observed:

“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven. We have been preserved these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us.

We have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and pray for clemency and forgiveness.” ~Abraham Lincoln, 1863.

When I see and hear a politician call the nation to repentance in the same kind of plain and confrontational words that this resolution uses, when I see that politician commit himself personally to repentance and prayer, then I will vote for that man or that woman with a clear conscience, Democrat or Republican or any other party. I am so tired of crooked, hypocritical, predator politicians who cover their own sins and ask us to join them in prayer that God will bless America. And I am tired of the people who make excuses and cover up sin and ridicule the prayers of broken and hurting people and tell us that “nobody is perfect” when the phrase suits their agenda, but point judgmental fingers at the sins of those who don’t agree with their particular political slant.

We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Our only hope is the mercy and grace of God that is mediated through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the sooner we get on our knees and pray for God’s mercy on this nation and on this world, the sooner we will be truly blessed and forgiven and preserved as a light and a “city on a hill” and a broken but redeemed blessing to others.

It’s not our health care system or our tax structure or our education system that is broken, although all of these may need repair. It’s we the people of the United States who have grown, as Lincoln said, “in numbers wealth and power”, but have forgotten grace, and humility and prayer. It’s me; I am more broken than the schools or the hospitals or the taxing authorities or anything else in this country. We are a broken people, and we see and experience things that are evil and we call them good so that we won’t feel badly about ourselves.

This Thanksgiving, Lord, have mercy on us. Give us clemency and forgiveness. Forgive us for treating the sojourner (the immigrant) as an enemy and an alien instead of extending hospitality and kindness. Forgive us for making excuses for those who would prey on children and on defenseless women and make them the objects of their sexual appetites and lust for power. Forgive us for believing lies when those lies suit our political ends and for disbelieving truth for the same reasons. Forgive us for murdering our own children in the womb before they even have an opportunity to breathe. Forgive us for watching violence and sexual perversion on screens as if it is acceptable as long as it is just pretend and done in the name of entertainment. Forgive us for taking Your holy name in vain, for ridiculing prayer and worship, and for thinking we are little gods ourselves, strong enough and wise enough and righteous enough to put the world to rights and make this nation “great again.”

God is Great. God is Good.
Let us thank Him for our food.

I learned that prayer about sixty years ago, and God help me if I have grown too wise in my own eyes to pray the same humble prayer now.

God, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Holy Spirit, forgive us and make us whole.

Autumn Beginnings

Hooray for fall! Here are a few introductory lines from children’s fiction books with an autumn setting—or at least, an autumn beginning:

MoominValley in November by Tove Jansson. “Early one morning in Moominvalley Snufkin woke up in his tent with the feeling that autumn had come and that it was time to break camp.”

B Is for Betsy by Carolyn Haywood. ” . . . this morning Betsy was so busy feeling unhappy that she forgot all about the birds. Betsy was unhappy because today was the first day of school. She had never been to school, and she was sure she would not like it.”

The Moffats by Eleanor Estes. “The way Mama could peel apples! A few turns of the knife and there the apple was, all skinned! . . . Jane sighed. Her mother’s peeling fell off in long lovely curls, while, for the life of her, Jane couldn’t do any better than these thick little chunks which she popped into her mouth.”

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater. “It was an afternoon in late September. In the pleasant little city of Stillwater, Mr. Popper, the house painter, was going home from work.”

Freddy Plays Football by Walter R. Broooks. “Jinx, the black cat, was curled up in the exact center of the clean white counterpane that Mrs. Bean had just put on the spare room bed.”

The Bully of Barkham Street by Mary Stolz. “Martin Hastings wriggled at his desk. He squirmed and yawned and wished the bell would ring. It was the last period of the day, a hazy, hot fall day, and he was restless.”

Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson. “He began to trot across the yard. His breath was coming out in little puffs—cold for August. But it was early yet.”

Mystery Over the Brick Wall by Helen Fuller Orton. “One afternoon in late September the four members of the Bond family piled into their car for a very exciting trip. They were starting to a city fifty miles away, where they were to have a new home.”

Flaming Arrows by William O. Steele. “‘I reckon it’s suppertime,’ remarked Chad, letting his ax slip to the ground. He straightened up slowly. He was bone-tired, and his back was one fierce ache. But he was proud of himself. He figured he had never worked so hard in all his eleven years, for he’d spent this livelong day chopping trees and had done a man’s work.”

Sounder by William Armstrong. “The tall man stood at the edge of the porch. The roof sagged from the two rough posts which held it, almost closing the gap between his head and the rafters. The dim light from the cabin window cast long equal shadows from man and posts. A boy stood nearby shivering in the cold October wind. He ran his fingers back and forth over the broad crown of a coon dog named Sounder.”

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink. “On a bright Saturday afternoon in the early fall, Tom and Caddie and Warren Woodlawn sat on a bank of the Menomonie River, or Red Cedar as the call it now, taking off their clothes.”

Ramona’s World by Beverly Cleary. “It was a warm September day, and Ramona, neat and clean, with lunch bag in hand, half skipped, half hopped, scrunching through dry leaves on the sidewalk. She was early, she knew, but Ramona was the sort of girl who was always early because something might happen that she didn’t want to miss.”

The Great Brain at the Academy by John D. Fitzgerald. “When my brother Tom began telling people in Adenville, Utah, that he had a great brain everybody laughed at him, including his own family. We all thought he was trying to play some joke on us. But after he had used his great brain to swindle all the kids in town and make fools of a lot of grownups nobody laughed at my brother anymore. I think that was why just about everybody in town except his own family was glad to see Tom leave Adenville on September 1, 1897.”

51 Sycamore Lane, or A Spy in the Neighborhood by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat. “School starts tomorrow and I bet the first assignment in Miss Nathan’s English class will be a composition titled ‘How I Spent My Summer Vacation.’ This would be my third year with the same title.”

Cleophas and Elizabeth Visit Easter Sunrise Service

We have a tradition in our church of having Biblical characters visit our Easter sunrise service in the park. This year Cleophas and his wife, Elizabeth, from Emmaus told us about their encounter with the resurrected Christ.

First Person Drama, written by Pastor Bob DeGray and performed by John Bauer and Zion Early. Based on the story of the meeting with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24:13-35.

St. Patrick’s Day books

I have several books for St. Patrick’s Day or about Saint Patrick and Ireland in my library:

Shamrocks, Harps, and Shillelaghs: The Story of St. Patrick’s Day Symbols by Edna Barth is more than just a listing of St. Patrick’s Day symbols and customs. It’s a children’s introduction to the history and culture of Ireland, with chapters on Irish literature and poetry, the history of Irish Catholics and Protestants, Irish dress and food, and Irish folklore, as well as the story of St. Patrick himself threaded throughout the ninety-five page book. And there’s bibliography of “Stories for St. Patrick’s Day” at the back of the book which includes many of the books on this list.

St. Patrick, The Irish Saint by Ruth Roquitte, illustrated by Robert Kilbride. “There’s a day in the spring when people wear green. . . On that day almost all of us would like to be Irish.” This book tells the story of the life of Magonus Sucatus Patricius, the man we call Saint Patrick in forty-six page with illustrations. It would be a good read aloud book to introduce children to the man and the holiday named in his honor.

Shamrock and Spear: Tales and Legends from Ireland by F.M. Pilkington, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. Tales of giants and beasts, princesses and dwarves, Cormac Mac Art and Fionn Mac Cool make up this well told collection of more than twenty Irish folktales.

St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Jan Brett. Young Jamie Donovan wants to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, but his family says he’s much too small to make it all the way to the top of Acorn Hill. Read about how Jamie proves that he is big enough to march.

Pegeen by Hilda van Stockum. Pegeen is something of a wild thing who makes up stories and dances like a gypsy and gains the affection of the entire O’Sullivan family in spite of her irresponsible ways. Other books about the O’Sullivan family of Bantry Bay are Francie on the Run, which takes place before Pegeen and The Cottage at Bantry Bay, the third book in the series.

Count Your Way Through Ireland by James Haskins. A numerical introduction to the country of Ireland with numbers in Gaelic, counting such things as sports, symbols, foods, stripes in the Irish flag, and one and only one St. Patrick himself.

Favorite Fairy Tales Told in Ireland by Virginia Haviland. Five stories suitable for elementary aged children.

The King of Ireland’s Son by Padraic Colum, illustrated by Willy Pogany. Mr. Colum was a poet and a playwright and a friend of James Joyce, but his retelling of myths, legends, and folklore for children came to be his most enduring work. The King of Ireland’s Son is a novel based on an old Irish tale about a prince who wins his bride, Fedelma the Enchanter’s Daughter, but must reclaim her after a long and adventurous journey of searching for the kidnapped Fedelma.

Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato by Tomie dePoala.
Jamie O’Rourke and the Pooka by Tomie dePaola.
These two picture books tell about Jamie O’Rourke, the laziest man in all of Ireland and his adventures with first, a leprechaun and then, a pooka. Jamie’s lazy ways get him into troubles, but for the most part all ends well for the lazy Jamie.

Do you know of any other Irish and St. Paddy’s Day books for children that are must-haves for my library?