Thursday, December 5, 2013

24 Days to Christmas: Day 5

Day 5: Favorite Christmas book or story

Or, in which I gained my appreciation for "dark" Christmas.

It's true. I don't have a tree skirt or pile of presents around my tree. I have BOOKS.

One of my favorite things about the holidays at home was getting out the crate of Christmas books - the big book of stories and poems illustrated with Norman Rockwell paintings, the well-loved copy of Christmas Around the World, a version of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas with images of a snowy coastline.

As an adult, I've acquired my own collection of holiday favorites.

In the Amazon era, I've been able to re-visit a lot of the Christmas books that I loved checking out of the library as a child. Although many of them are out of print, used versions can still be found.

One is this book, Santa Claus and His Elves by Mauri Kunnas. It purports to be a true account of the inner workings of Santa's workshops. The illustrations are stuffed with details that you can pore over for hours. A newer book that takes a "behind-the-scenes" look at life at the North Pole is The Christmas Magic, by Lauren Thompson. It's a gentle story with beautiful illustrations - a great gift for families.

Another favorite from my days stalking the Christmas section of the public library is the one you see at left, The Book of Christmas.

Anyone who was a kid in the 80's remembers the commercials for Time Life Books. I was a big fan of the "Enchanted World" series, which collected world mythology and folklore.

I've never seen another book like The Book of Christmas. It collects all of the weirdest and most wonderful legends about Christmas - stories about ghosts, talking animals, and nutcrackers. I usually started checking it out in September and checked it out multiple times through the New Year.

It's probably from The Book of Christmas that I learned there's more to Christmas than jollyness. I mean, it even had a chapter called "The Heart of Darkness" (which we will be re-visting later in this countdown).

The book also has beautiful illustrations. After I moved away from my home town, I always thought about the book, and found a copy on Amazon to call my own.

 But when it comes to favorite?

When I was little, I remember seeing my parents' copy of Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin. I was enchanted by the book's blue cover decked with an image of a white horse galloping through the stars.

When I found a copy in a used bookstore, I snatched it up and discovered my favorite book of all time. It's the story of Peter Lake, a thief who falls in love with a wealthy young woman when he tries to rob her house. That's an amazingly simplistic description of a complex tale that's equal parts love story to New York, meditation on the themes of Christianity, and exploration of justice in a cruel world.

And Helprin is an absolute poet of winter. Winter's Tale has a beautiful extended Christmas sequence and descriptions of snow and starry skies that will take your breath away. Helprin has written another gorgeous ode to winter entitled A Kingdom Far and Clear, with illustrations by Chris van Allsburg - who also wrote and illustrated the holiday classic The Polar Express.

A movie version of Winter's Tale is coming out later this winter, and while I can't imagine how they would turn the story into a film, I was excited that they seem to have gotten the casting right. So maybe there's hope. I highly recommend grabbing the book this winter and making it part of your holiday vacation.

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