A confession: This Library Spirit consorts with the Christmas Spirit year-round. We (Kris K. and I) like to mingle among LW’s holiday books—all five shelves of them—and, yes, sometimes in the kitchen among the cookbooks as well. Smells of balsam and gingerbread and old books ensue.
LW loves her Christmas books—and I do, too. Last month I was thinking of featuring some of our favorites in the style of an Advent calendar. Present a book a day, leading up to Christmas. That didn’t get anywhere, what with LW traveling to California for Thanksgiving and then getting caught up with the busyness of the season. [Shown below: Dawn over Los Angeles. Who could pull her away from views like this?]
So now I’m thinking of The Twelve Days of Christmas. I could feature one (or more) Christmas-themed book for each day of the traditional Christmas season that begins Christmas Day and ends with Epiphany. This might work if Epiphany can be pushed back into April. Don’t hold your eggnog-scented breath. And no promises.
But I begin with some background: Why does LW have so many Christmas books, anyway?
Her love of the holiday goes back to those 1950s Christmases at that small farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The season would begin with a book–not the Bible, which tended to collect dust until Christmas Eve–but the Sears, Roebuck holiday catalogue called “The Wish Book.” Someday I hope to possess a copy of this marvel, but suffice to say that its shiny pages spoke comfort and joy to LW and her sisters as much as any Christmas carol. (In the interim I will refer you to Harry Crews’ memoir A Childhood: A Biography of a Place to read of the fascination The Wish Book held for rural children.)
Her holiday season began in earnest, however, with the opening of the first Advent calendar window. And now, this Christmas morning, LW’s holiday memories reflect back to me (Willa, her books-bound shadow), much like those small calendar windows, back-lit with a magical glow.
And so many windows to open: Christmas cards with glitter snow, paper chains made from construction paper,
ferns of frost on the windows, the bright red berries of the holly that grew in the woods, the long-needled pine trees, too; and church, with air tinged blue by the singing of O Come O Come Emmanuel, and the glow of the candles there.
And folded and cut paper snowflakes,
reindeer and sleigh stenciled on the windows with Glass Wax, a cake for her birthday (she conflated her December birthday with the holiday), rimed red bells suspended from tinseled garlands across Main Street in town, “snowballs” thrown from a float in the Christmas parade there,
the foil-wrapped marshmallow Santa pressed into her hand by Stranger Santa in his makeshift workshop on the Courthouse lawn, the cards strung across the ceiling of her grandfather’s house, favorite prints on recycled gift wrap, Christmas sheet music,
cardinals in the snow, a plastic snowman that once held candy (still cocky with a broken pipe in its mouth), icicles hanging from the roof, candy canes, the crèche scene her sisters made in a shoe box, and the house lined with all blue Christmas lights found (every year) on a night ride through back country roads.
Then, behind the big window of Christmas Eve, that last look out the back door into the silent night: the steam of her breath in the cold air, the silhouette of the piney woods, the inscrutable stars.
But the greatest delights of the season were held back, restraints that built the excitement to almost unbearable levels. When she and her sisters hung their stockings on the upright piano on Christmas Eve, the branches of the balsam in the far corner of the living room were still bare. Not a present was in sight. Her parents shut the doors to the room, and no creature stirred, not even a mouse, for another (agonizing) eight or nine hours. Presumably Santa Claus himself dropped in to stuff the stockings, nibble the cookies, decorate and tinsel the tree,
fill the candy dishes, pose the dolls and bigger toys just so, and set out a miniature scene on cotton snow, all in one night.
Then, near dawn, her parents hustled into the living room before anyone else was allowed in, perhaps to move a few things around for aesthetic purposes or to wrap an errant present. This stalling left LW and her sisters waiting in robes and slippers, teeth chattering, just outside the door for another half hour, until the Grand Opening. The impact of that amazing transformation that awaited them—tree lights blinking, angel topper glowing, gifts tumbling over one another, fruits and nuts and candies abounding,
smells of balsam and orange and furnace heat permeating all—was never to be forgotten, and, within just a few years (when their parents would separate, then divorce), never to be repeated. [Shown above, her mother’s candy dishes, still in use.]
In years to come, LW became enamored of Christmas books of all kinds. Some of them, written about holidays from times and places similar to those she knew, brought to mind a forgotten moment from those Christmases past. Others told of Christmases as celebrated in other ways in other places and at other times, Christmases she would add to her own memories. Some books provided deeper meaning to the holiday. Some were just for fun. If a certain kind of Christmas can’t be repeated (and, of course, nothing can be repeated—the world being born ever-new), she learned it can still be imagined and reimagined. Ah, books—they are good for that!
Next: my first Christmas book selection!