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Christmas in Virginia, 1864

From Charlie Skedaddle by Patricia Beatty:

“Charley volunteered, ‘On Christmas Day at home we go to Mass and then give each other presents. After that we o visiting people we know, and we always have a real fine Christmas dinner when we can afford to have one, roast goose or roast beef.’

‘Do tell! All those goings-on in one day! Malindy wouldn’ like hearin’ that about the goose. We don’t fuss so much here in the hills, but we do eat a good supper, and we sing some, and outside a feedin’ the livestock we don’ do no work. I ain’t got no gift for ya, but I’ll feed ya fine today.’

Charley had to admit that the highlight of the day was the dinner the best he’s ever eaten here—a tender ham they’d salted down the previous summer and now soaked in water, then baked; and a lard crust pie from sun-dried apples.

After they finished eating Granny Jerusha sang a mountain carol to Charley in her harsh, deep, old woman’s voice.

In turn, Charley sang a carol in Latin which the sisters had taught him. At its end, Granny Bent said ‘Ya got a sweet voice.’ Then she went on to sing him another carol, ‘The Cherry Tree Carol,’ about the tree that at the request of the Baby Jesus let liquid flow off its bent branches to water the thirsty, kneeling animals at the manger.”

Charlie Skedaddle is a Civil War story about a twelve year old boy from New York’s Bowery section who lies about his age and joins the Union army. However, Charley’s first battle is more than he bargained for, and he “skedaddles”. Charley end up in the hills of Virginia, where he takes refuge with Granny Bent, an old mountain woman who trusts Charley about as much as he trusts her—not much. Will Charley always be a coward in hiding from both Yankees and Rebels, or will he grow into manhood in the hills of Appalachia?

Patricia Beatty’s books are all worth searching for and reading. She wrote ten books with her husband, John Beatty, and then after his death, she wrote more than thirty works of historical fiction by herself. Some of her other books that I have enjoyed are Bonanza Girl, That’s One Ornery Orphan, Behave Yourself Bethany Brant, Be Ever Hopeful Hannalee, Wait for Me Watch for Me Eula Bee, and Jayhawker.

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Christmas in France, c. 1930

From Noël for Jeanne-Marie by Françoise Seignobosc:

“Listen, Patapon,” says Jeanne-Marie. “Noël is the birthday of the little Jesus.”

“And there is something more about Noël. If you are very good, Father Noël brings you presents. He comes in the night. No one sees him, no one at all. I put my wooden shoes near the chimney and Father Noël fills them with presents. You will see, Patapon, you will see . . .”

Unfortunately, Patapon is Jeanne-Marie’s pet sheep, and sheep have no wooden shoes to place beside the chimney for Father Noël to fill with presents.

I love both the illustrations and the story in this simple picture book about a little French girl and her pet sheep. Ms. Seignobosc, a French-American author and illustrator who used the pen name of simply “Françoise”, wrote and illustrated over 40 picture books between the years of 1930 and 1960. I would suggest that if you find any of her books about Jeanne-Marie or any of her other lovely picture books that you snap them up. They are not only collector’s items, but they are also delightful, simple stories for reading with preschoolers and for the young at heart.

Take a look at this one about Biquette, the white goat with a lovely special-made coat.
Or Springtime for Jeanne-Marie, one of my favorites.
More from Springtime for Jeanne-Marie.
And here’s some information about another Francoise book, The Thank You Book.

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Christmas in Alaska, 1948


From The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill:

“When it was Christmastime, we had a tree in the school. . . We put popcorn strings on it and little chains made of green and red paper. That tree looked just beautiful.

It was supposed to have candles on it, but Miss Agnes said that spruce was too dry, the needles just falling off with a little sprinkling sound when you walked by it. We might set it on fire if we put candles on it.

Miss Agnes showed us some Christmas pictures from other countries, and those Christmas trees were just fat. Different from our skinny little trees. Our little skinny tree branches couldn’t even hold a candle, I don’t think.

Miss Agnes taught us a whole bunch of Christmas songs. Some we knew from the radio already. And we put on a play.”

Miss Agnes is the new teacher in a small Athabascan village in Alaska, and the narrator of the story is ten year old Fred, one of her pupils in the one-room schoolhouse. This 113 page book would make a good read aloud story for younger children or a good independent reading book for those who are confident enough to start reading chapter books by themselves. It’s a lovely story about a very special teacher, and the Christmas celebration that Miss Agnes has with her pupils and their parents is especially fun to read about.

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Recommended.

Christmas in Port William, Kentucky, 1954

From Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry:

“The night of the Christmas dance was starless. A few snowflakes were floating down out of the dark sky into the aura of electric light in front of Riverwood. I was moved to see the snowflakes melting in Clydie’s hair as I helped her out of her coat. She was wearing a light green dress with a full skirt that set off her figure, and I reached around her waist and gave her a little hug.

We protested and paid and went past Mrs. Fitz’s table into the darker room. The band already was playing and couples were dancing. Mindful that we were older than most, we took a table a little off to itself and yet where we had a good view of the floor. For a while we just watched. The boys were wearing their good suits. The girls were in party dresses, all dolled up. It was a pretty thing to see them dancing. The room was lighted by rows of shaded electric candles along the walls, an imitation log fire in the fireplace, and (so far) by a few lamps overhead that cast a soft glow onto the dance floor. Everybody (including, of course, me) had brought a pint or a half-pint stuck away in his pocket or in his date’s purse.”

Something happens at the Christmas dance that changes Mr. Jayber Crow, Port William’s resident barber and inveterate bachelor. He sees something that changes the direction of his life–in an unusual way. He makes a vow, and he spends the remainder of the book living out the consequences of that vow.

“Maybe I had begun my journey drunk and ended it crazy. Probably I was not the one to say. But though I felt the whole world shaken underfoot, though I foresaw nothing and feared everything, I felt strangely steadied in my mind, strangely elated and quiet.
The sky had lightened a little by the time I reached the top of the Port William hill. It was Sunday morning again.”

Jayber Crow is one of the best books I’ve ever read by a very talented author.

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Christmas at Brede Abbey, Sussex, England, c. 1955

“On the night of Christmas Eve the abbey was so still it might have been thought to be empty, or the nuns asleep, but when the bell sounded at ten o’clock, from all corners, especially from the church, silent figures made their way to their station in the long cloister, and Abbess Catherine led them into choir for Christmas Matins. The first nocturne from the book of Isaiah was sung by the four chief chantresses: ‘Comfort, comfort my people says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned. A voice says ‘Cry!’ and I said ‘What shall I cry?’ All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flowers of the field. . . .’ Voice succeeded voice through two hours until the priests, vested in white and gold, with their servers, came in procession from the sacristy for the tenderness and triumph of the midnight Mass. Lauds of Christmas followed straight after, and at two o’clock the community went to the refectory for hot soup, always called ‘cock soup’ because it was the first taste of meat or chicken they had had since Advent began. The soup was served with rice–‘beautifully filling,’ said Hilary in content–and after it came two biscuits and four squares of chocolate. ‘Chocolate!’ ‘We need to keep our strength up,’ said Dame Ursula.

In the twenty-four hours of Christmas they would spend ten hours in choir, singing the Hours at their accustomed times, and the second ‘dawn’ or ‘aurora,’ Mass of the shepherds as well as the third Mass of Christmas, which came after terce. The wonder was that the nuns had time to eat their Christmas dinner, most of it contributed by friends.”

I picked up a beautiful paperback copy of In This House of Brede by Rumor Godden at Half-Price Books the other day. The blurb on the back calls the book “an extraordinarily sensitive and insightful portrait of religious life.” I have called it “an excellent story about the lives of women within a closed community of nuns. Not only does the reader get to satisfy his curiosity about how nuns live in a convent, but there’s also a a great plot related to contemporary issues such as abortion, the efficacy of prayer, and the morality of absolute obedience.”

I highly recommend it if you’re at all interested in the disciplines of the Christian life or the difficulties and possibilities inherent in attempting to live in Christian community.

Blog reviews for In This House of Brede:
Laura at Lines in Pleasant Places.
Heather at Lines from the Page.
Phyllis at Life on Windy Ridge.
Diane at A Circle of Quiet.
Julie at Happy Catholic.

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Christmas in Antarctica, 1910


“The story in this book really happened on a voyage to Antarctica in 1910. The ship was called the Terra Nova. Her captain was Robert Scott, and Tom Crean, the sailor, was a member of the crew.”

This beautifully illustrated picture book tells the story of Tom the Sailor who is too busy to decorate for Christmas. On a very full ship, nearing the coast of Antarctica, Tom must find a nesting place for his pet rabbit. After Tom finds a place for Little Rabbit,

“Everyone sat down around the long table in the big cabin. They ate . . . tomato soup, roast mutton, plum pudding, mince pies. Then they opened little parcels from their families. They played games and sang songs. They were a very long ways away from home, but it was a good Christmas party.”

After the Christmas party, Tom goes to check on Little Rabbit, and he finds a big surprise, “the best Christmas present ever!”

The end papers tell a little, but not all, of what happened to Tom Crean and his ship and his expedition after the Christmas of 1910. Crean went with Captain Scott overland toward the South Pole, but he was sent back before reaching the pole. On the way back, he saved the life of fellow explorer, Edward Evans, who was afflicted with snow blindness and scurvy. Crean trekked 56 kilometers alone, through the snow and just ahead of a blizzard, to get help for Evans.

The men of Scott’s expedition who went on toward the South Pole arrived to find that Roald Amundsen had reached the South Pole ahead on them. This part of the story is not in the picture book: all of the men of Scott’s polar expedition who reached the South Pole died on the way back. Crean was one of the 11-man search party that found their remains.

After all of that tragedy and adventure, Crean returned to Antarctica withe Shackleton expedition of 1914. He again performed heroic feats, being one of the three men who accompanied Shackleton as he sailed 800 miles through Antarctic seas and then hiked 48 kilometers across a glacier to obtain rescue for the rest of the men of the party who were left on Elephant Island.

Crean retired to Ireland. “He put his medals and his sword in a box … and that was that. He was a very humble man.” (Wikipedia, Tom Crean) I rather doubt that Little Rabbit and his progeny suffered such a happy fate, but the story in this picture book doesn’t deal with Little Rabbit’s later life.

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Christmas in Holland, 1943

A Dutch family celebrates Christmas/St. Nicholas Day during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands:

St. Nicholas told Pieterbaas to look in the bag and see what was in it. To everyone’s amusement, Pieterbaas pulled out six chocolate bars! They were small bars, but they might have been of gold. Chocolate had been unknown in Holland for the past three years. Now Betsy believed more than ever in St. Nicholas’ magic!

St. Nicholas sat at the table and had supper with the family. Mother had added to the meal a sauce of the mushrooms Joris had picked, so that there would be enough food for everyone.

Betsy exclaimed that she had never before eaten with St. Nicholas. “Are you going to see my Daddy,” she asked.

St. Nicholas was struggling with the soup; he seemed to have difficulty finding his mouth through the beard. “Yes, yes,” he said. “Of course, I don’t forget people.”

“And what will you bring him?” asked Betsy. “Bread pudding?” Bread pudding seemed to be a family joke at the stationmaster’s house.

“No, I’m going to bring him good news of his girls. He’ll like that best,” said St. Nicholas. Koba and Betsy nodded. That seemed reasonable. ~The Winged Watchman by Hilda van Stockum

Christmas in London, 1661

Christmas Day, 1661. In the morning to church; where at the door of our pew I was fain to stay, because that the sexton had not opened the door. A good sermon of Mr. Mills. Dined at home all alone, And taking occasion, from some fault in the meat, to complain of my maid’s Sluttery, my wife and I fell out, and I up to my Chamber in a discontent. After dinner my wife comes up to me and all friends again; and she and I to walk upon the Leads; there Sir W. Pen called us and we went to his house and supped with him.
~Samuel Pepys

Sir William Penn (23 April 1621 – 16 September 1670) was an English admiral, and the father of William Penn, founder of the colony of Pennsylvania.

This bust is of Pepys, showing him as a young man as he was when he wrote his famous diary. I can’t figure out from the above quotation whether it was Pepys himself or his wife who spoiled their Christmas festivities with complaints about the maid’s “sluttery.” Either way, it’s good that they made up in time to sup with Sir Penn.

Christmas in the Davis Mountains, Texas, 1839

On Christmas Day in 1839, frontiersman Kit Carson allegedly carved his name and the date on a huge boulder on Sawtooth Mountain in the Davis Mountains in Texas. Carson was born in 1809 in Kentucky and grew up in Missouri. He ran away to Santa Fe in 1826 and subsequently embarked on an arduous and wide-ranging career as a fur trapper. As a guide and hunter for John C. Frémont in the 1840s, he gained national fame through Frémont’s published reports. Carson was an Indian agent in Taos, New Mexico, in the 1850s. He served in the Mexican War and in the Civil War, commanding a New Mexico volunteer regiment in the battle of Valverde. His connections to Texas history included helping foil the Snively Expedition in 1843 and leading the attack against a large number of Kiowas and Comanches in the first battle of Adobe Walls in 1864. He died in Colorado in 1868. Engineers of the State Department of Highways and Public Transportation discovered the inscription on Sawtooth Mountain in 1941.

Christmas in London, 1822

Essayist Charles Lamb, in “A Few Words on Christmas”

“London is not too populous at Christmas. But what there is of population looks more alive than at other times. Quick walking and heaps of invitations keep the blood warm. Every one seems hurrying to a dinner. The breath curls upward like smoke through the frosty air; the eyes glisten; the teeth are shown; the muscles of the face are rigid, and the colour of the cheek has a fixed look, like a stain. Hunger is no longer an enemy. We feed him, like the ravenous tiger, till he pants and sleeps, or is quiet. Every body eats at Christmas. The rich feast as usual; but the tradesman leaves his moderate fare for dainties. The apprentice abjures his chop, and plunges at once into the luxuries of joints and puddings. The school-boy is no longer at school. He dreams no more of the coming lesson or the lifted rod; but mountains of jelly rise beside him, and blanc-mange, with its treacherous foundations, threatens to overwhelm his fancy; roods of mince pies spread out their chequered riches before him; and figures (only real on the 6th of January) pass by him, one by one, like ghosts before the vision of the King of Scotland. Even the servant has his “once a year” bottle of port; and the beggar his ‘alderman in chains.'”

“Oh! merry piping time of Christmas! Never let us permit thee to degenerate into distant courtesies and formal salutations. But let us shake our friends and familiars by the hand, as our fathers and their fathers did. Let them all come around us, and let us count how many the year has added to our circle. Let us enjoy the present, and laugh at the past. Let us tell old stories and invent new ones–innocent always, and ingenious if we can. Let us not meet to abuse the world, but to make it better by our individual example. Let us be patriots, but not men of party. Let us look of the time–cheerful and generous, and endeavour to make others as generous and cheerful as ourselves.”