Of all my Christmas loves, the books and stories that express the real joys of the season are among the sweetest. Over the years I have amassed a goodly circle of friends that take their indispensable places among the cherished traditions: from the short stories we like to read aloud in the weeks leading up to the blessed day to the sacrosanct pieces reserved for Christmas Eve, to the gentle novels from which I select the quiet reading for Christmas week. I am so excited to have a sampling of some of these best-loved titles in the shop this year.
It seems it just can’t be properly Christmas without Kate Douglas Wiggin. The Old Peabody Pew, A Christmas Romance of a Country Church is an early work, close on the heels of her wildly successful Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and tells the gentle tale of a wandering sheep and a faithful heart waiting at home. I loved the staunch New England setting and the spare beauty of the church, almost a character in itself, handled with such loving accuracy by the author.
The Romance of a Christmas Card, published in 1916, is a similarly tender story, albeit a more mature one in its treatment of the darker themes of estrangement and abandonment. When a minister’s wife innocently sends out Christmas cards that find their way to a couple of village wayfarers, depicting the homely radiance of the town and the people they have left behind, events are set in motion that bring everyone involved to a crisis of restoration and hope.
The Birds’ Christmas Carol must simply be one of the most well-loved Christmas stories of all time. This one was a tradition in our home growing up, though no one wanted to be the one reading it aloud at the end, striving to steady their voice over those last beautiful pages.
My personal copy of The Fireside Book of Christmas Carols is growing rather loose at the hinges as it’s in constant service each year for the duration of the season. This is an absolutely marvelous collection of stories and readings that is really the nicest I have ever come across for sheer variety and content. It contains selections from such varied authors as Louisa May Alcott and Daphne DuMaurier and Elizabeth Gaskell, as well as the full text of The Birds’ Christmas Carol. Dickens’ immortal Scrooge takes his place alongside Sir Roger de Coverley and Henry Van Dyke. Silly stories lark among the more serious ones, and while I certainly can’t claim every tale in the book to be a favorite, or even a gem, I give that designation without reserve to the collection as a whole. My two favorite Christmas essays of all time were discovered within its pages: ‘Christmas in Our Town’ by Alice Van Leer Carrick and Alexander Smith’s thoughtful musings of a Christmas night in 1862.
Then of course there is Bess. Journey Into Christmas is a well-beloved sampling of the Christmas stories of Bess Streeter Aldrich, of which I have read and cherished every one. This dear book is a constant alternation between laughter and tears, and, always, a gentle celebration of the domestic graces that give such firm context to our traditions and celebrations.
Tasha Tudor is past-mistress of capturing the joys of the seasons in general and Christmas in particular. A Book of Christmas is a very special title in her holiday repertoire as it’s a charming three-dimensional experience from a uniquely Tudor perspective. It even includes one of Tasha’s famous Advent calendars right in the middle of the book!
I’m going to talk more about Temple Bailey down the road, but I simply must present So This is Christmas by saying that this new favorite of mine is a lovely introduction to her works. This Depression-era gem is a Christmas nosegay of seven lovely stories, all unique and every one bearing a message just as poignant as it is timeless. Bailey’s style is all her own, assuming at times an almost parable-like voice, and always treating the real beauties of everyday life with a reverent hand. If you like Grace Livingston Hill, this is a perfect choice for a lighter Christmas read with a genuine substance beneath. The Crystal Bowl is a slim volume containing one of the stories from this collection.
On Christmas Day in the Evening is the 1910 stand-alone sequel to Grace Richmond’s earlier On Christmas Day in the Morning. We meet the Fernald family as Richmond left them in the first book, gathered for Christmas once more at the old home in North Estabrook. Now that their own domestic rifts have been mended, the young Fernalds join forces to heal—if possible—a bitter division that has left their village church-less for over six months. I love this little book with its simple message and beautifully period illustrations.
Lloyd C. Douglas’ Home for Christmas is the rollicking story of how the five grown Clayton ‘children’ recapture lost joys and recover the essential things that have made them into the men and women they have become. Sentiment is laced with romance and humor and the whole makes for a delightful story and an excellent read-aloud. ‘A Christmas Story of Today, in the Spirit of Yesterday’, proclaims the back cover—and it’s as true in 2010 as it was in 1935.
I Saw Three Ships is a reprint of Elizabeth Goudge’s magical tale, originally published in 1969 and tells of a Christmas Eve visit that a little girl named Polly will never forget…
Christmas Days by Joseph C. Lincoln is a holiday story of old Cape Cod. A self-proclaimed ‘spinner-of-yarns’ Lincoln winds his 1938 tale over the Christmases of three nineteenth-century decades and the choices that affect an entire family, for good and ill. I confess, it was this book’s lovely cover that first attracted me, but I found what was inside to be charming as well, and a pleasant way to indulge a few hours by the fire.
In the Days of the Angels is a collection of Walt Wangerin’s Christmas essays and stories, and contains several original carols, as well. The author of The Book of the Dun Cow and The Book of God, Wangerin is a profoundly gifted writer with a voice ‘like one crying in the wilderness.’ There’s no reading him with impunity, for with razor-precision he cuts to the heart and compels his readers to examine what matters most.
Shepherd’s Abiding by Jan Karon absolutely made our Christmas a few years back. Philip and I both enjoyed this story of a sacrificial Christmas gift and the operations of love and grace moving through a whole town. Father Tim always grants perspective in his distinguishing between ‘bustle’ and ‘huffing about’, and I love Karon’s honesty, poured out in the lives of characters that feel like real people I know.
I wish you all great joy in these Advent days leading up to Christmas, and I hope that they may be filled with all the good things you love best–including the best of books!