Boy, do I love Christmas. If my parents did anything right in raising us kids (and they did a lot of things right – they’re amazing!) I’d have to say imparting a love of Christmas would rank right up there at the top. From hunting for the perfect Christmas tree to cookie sheets full of gingerbread and sugar cookie men decorated with all colors of frosting to Christmas music on repeat (often all year long) to the yearly viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life, Christmas was one of the most special times of year when I was a child.
It went beyond the gifts to embrace feelings of warmth, creativity, imagination, and generosity. My mom was known to hunt through summer garage sales for Christmas presents, wrap them in July or August, and have a sizable pile of gifts by early September stashed away in her bedroom. I thought all moms prepared for Christmas like that until a friend came over one day when I was in high school and couldn’t stop commenting on all the Christmas presents. Already wrapped. In summer. It started to dawn on my that maybe my family did Christmas just a little bit different than everyone else. Because my mom shopped so early in the season (technically ‘the season’ hadn’t even started when she shopped!) we often ended up with wall-to-wall presents, three or four deep surrounding the tree on Christmas morning. Growing up in a family of five kids helped – even if we only received a few gifts each it looked like Santa’s entire sleigh had unloaded in our living room.
One of the best ways I know to get myself in the Christmas spirit is to curl up with a book that transports me right into the middle of that most festive time of year. While names like Narnia or Dickens might be a the top of some people’s lists for a holiday read, I recently came across two books that might be lesser known but still left me with a longing for all things calm and bright.
When I first read the title and subtitle of this book, I’m pretty sure I did a double take. Jazz? Santa? Con man? What is this book and why have I not read it before? This true crime narrative takes you on a journey through turn of the century New York and one man’s attempt at playing Santa Claus for an entire city. The author is a distant relative of the main character, a do-gooder turned con-man who stirs up the Christmas spirit through an entire city only to see his empire come crashing down around him. It also traces some of the history of Christmas as we celebrate it today and how this slice of history helped solidify some of our present day traditions.
Recently I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts and heard this book mentioned as they were discussing A Christmas Carol. Arguably one of the best known works of literature about Christmas in history, this book about the book (it’s true – I read books about books…so much so I actually have a list of favorites just in this category alone!) tells the story of how Dickens came to write such a timeless classic. I’m currently about halfway through it and I’ve learned so much about him as an author and this period of history in England. It’s also warming me up to possibly revisit this era of literature. If you listened to my recent interview on WSIRN’s podcast, you know that a bad encounter with Dickens a freshman English class in high school turned me off to all things Victorian when it comes to books, but I think it’s time to give this era another chance. Dickens did, after all, help my favorite holiday be what it is today. Without him, where would I be? Haha! 🙂
What about you? Have you come across any books that put you in the Christmas spirit that other people might not know about?