Let it Snow–Not that kind of snow!

LetitsnowConfession: I might have a possibly real disorder ORD (Obsessive Reading Disorder).  This fall, it was Thomas Hardy.  I found myself talking to the main characters, telling them not to go with Arabella, Bathsheba or Alec. Suddenly, everything Hardy ever wrote was clever and interesting–topic for casual conversation with my non-Hardy reading friends. (Don’t try it–conversation is very one-sided.)

By Christmas, I had turned my attention to more modern and lighter fare, John Green.  I had read Fault in Our Stars and cried over it–who doesn’t? I had watched his YouTube channel. I started following his every Tweet.   I thought I ought to give Looking for Alaska some attention.  Then, I moved through An Abundance of Katherines.  (It may be sacrilege, but I don’t love Green’s novels as much as just about every teenage girl I know.)  Still, I went searching for more.  I found, much to my delight, a JOHN GREEN CHRISTMAS story, Let it Snow: Three Holiday Romances (2008).  Actually, it’s three stories.  The other two are written by Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle (both accomplished authors whose books appear on the the NPR Best Young Adult Novel list).

The first of the three is Maureen Johnson’s story “Jublilee Express.” I loved the voice of the female character and the difficulties she experiences when her parents are arrested in a shopping brawl related to their desire to collect the “limited time only” collector pieces for the Flobie Santa Village, and Jubilee must go to Florida temporarily to stay with her grandparents while the Flobie incident blows over.  The train is stuck in the worst snowstorm in years, so Jubilee leaves the train and seeks shelter at a nearby Waffle House. The adventure and romance that follows is light and funny.

Even though I read all the time, I am one of the most gullible readers–I never see the ending coming.  Imagine my delight and surprise when John Green’s story, “A Cheertastic Christmas,” takes place in the same snowstorm with some of the same characters. (Yes, if I had read the reviews, I would have known these were interwoven stories.) Myracle’s story, “The Patron Saint of Pigs,” finished the trilogy with Jeb and Addie, who dyes her hair pink after the break-up, and searches for a way to bring Christmas cheer to others.   By the time I started the third story, I had made friends with everyone in the Waffle House. I was laughing at and with them–in my Thomas Hardy-esque manner.

This book is perfect for the 12 – 17 year-old reader if you are looking for a unique Christmas gift.  Even better, though, is the idea of finding two other writers and making your own holiday short story trilogy.  I think I’m up for it.  I’d like to add OWD (Obsessive Writing Disorder) to my growing list of personality problems.

Santa Claus and the Werewolf Dog

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One of my stranger Christmas finds was during a visit to the Howard County Library in search of cartoons drawn by Al Hirschfeld. I was in the graphic novel section and came across Christmas Classics Volume 19. in addition to the standard Dickens’ Christmas Carol and The Night Before Christmas, this collection had illustrated classic Christmas tales by Willa Cather, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Arthur Conan Doyle.

After I read the book, I came to a number of conclusions. First, I had never heard of these short stories. Since each is written by a famous author, I’m interested to read the full text of the stories. Some of the plot seemed nonsensical in cartoon. Is this because the story itself is lacking or because of the way it is told through art?

Second, I admit I do not know enough about graphic novels. I did not enjoy some of the illustrations because of their different styles. I often skip over the cartoons in the newspaper based on their illustration style, and for me, weird is not necessarily better. I read a review on Amazonand all it did was confirm that I am not the best audience for graphic novels.

Despite my “bah humbug” attitude, the book was an unexpected gem–something worth purchasing and gifting to a young reader who maybe ranks the horror of Halloween above the sugar-coated tales of Christmas. The macabre is refreshing!

Jay Frankston and A True Christmas Story

christmasEverything ties back to Christmas–sometimes in a neat little package.

Yesterday, I was listening to “This I Believe,” a “public dialogue about belief–one essay at a time.” This week’s featured essay, titled “Speak Up” is a personal statement about Jay Frankston’s youth, a Jewish child in Paris during the Holocaust.  He echoes what others have said about how violence and cruelty spreads.  It is the silence of the masses that allows the evil to grow.

The essay is beautiful, but stranger than his non-fiction, is the brief biography at the end–Jay Frankston spent most of his adult life portraying Santa Claus in New York City.  His book, “A Christmas Story:  A True Story” is easily accessible to read and/or purchase on the web.

I listened to the entire 20-minute autobiographical story last night.  Why a Jewish man would choose to portray and promote Christmas is curious indeed.  I won’t tell the whole story, but the part I liked best was when he met a little girl who said she didn’t receive Christmas presents because she was Jewish.  Frankston whispered, “I’m Jewish, too.”

I’m curious to find a photograph of him as Santa because he explains that he wore a rubberized mask, which must have been uncomfortable.

This sent me to the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame.  (Jeremy mentioned this in our last podcast.)  Mr. Frankston has not yet been inducted, so I’m adding an official nomination to the list of Yule Log 2013 plans. . .

Christmas in the Great Depression

tacl_cards6On the Writer’s Almanac today, Garrison Keillor noted that on this day in 1939, John Steinbeck published The Grapes of Wrath, a novel that created sweeping public outcry (both good and bad) and won Steinbeck the Pulitzer Prize.  The Grapes of Wrath was the best-selling book in 1939 and is listed 10th in Modern Library’s 100 Best English Language Novels of the 20th Century.  In addition, today is also called “Black Sunday” because one of the worse dust storms of the Depression began on this day in 1935.

I realized then that Jeremy and I have never really explored Christmas during this difficult time in American history. In fact, I imagine that the poverty of time brought out the true meaning of Christmas.    After a little snooping about, I discovered there is a wealth of information about Christmas, even if the people of the time were poor. The Depression Era Christmas card (1932) in this photo features a chicken with only one feather in his tail (it was a dyed feather attached to the card).  It’s typical of the representations of Christmas at the time.

In December 2012, blogger Sam Moore posted his research into Depression Era Christmas celebrations on the website, Farm Collector, combining his parents’ personal experiences with information from farm magazines of the time period. One featured gifts a person could sew or make from scraps of fabric or soap. One magazine suggested that a single bar of white soap could be softened and cut into smaller slivers and wrapped individually. (It reminds me of hotel-sized bars of soap.)  A washcloth could be made from pieces of gauze sewed together.

Baylor University’s website features two brief audio stories about Christmas during the Great Depression.  One retired professor described his Christmas, ” ‘Why don’t we kidnap Santa Claus? He’s got all these gifts, and he bypasses us. . . So we went to bed on Christmas Eve early. . .So anyway, we climbed out the window—out in the country—with a rope that we were going to tie up Santa Claus. (laughter).”

Last fall, Katherine Lasky published Dear America: Christmas After All.  It is historical fiction about a 9-year-old who experiences Christmas during the Great Depression.  The reviews are all very positive, and the book might make a nice gift for a young reader (7 – 12), perhaps American Girl doll age.  I’ve included a link to the Scholastic website.  Even though it is a work of fiction, many of the events and places are authentic and are based on her relatives’ experiences.

I think I’ve just scratched the surface of this topic.  I’ll be back with more about Christmas in the Great Depression.

Washington Irving’s Birthday: the birth of modern Santa Claus?

old-christmasAccording to the Writer’s Almanac, today is the birthday of Washington Irving, in 1783.  It is Washington Irving who is responsible for the popularization of Christmas in America, and, specifically, the depiction of Santa Claus and his sleigh.

According to The Office of Santa Claus (How much more official can we get?) and many other sources, Irving’s portrayal was meant to be satire, a joke!

“In the British colonies of North America and later the United States, British and Dutch versions of the gift-giver merged further. For example, in Washington Irving’s History of New York, (1809), Sinterklaas was Americanized into “Santa Claus” but lost his bishop’s apparel, and was at first pictured as a thick-bellied Dutch sailor with a pipe in a green winter coat. Irving’s book was a lampoon of the Dutch culture of New York, and much of this portrait is his joking invention.”

Santa is a New Yorker?!?

The Christmas perks of a newspaper subscription

For Valentine’s Day, the love of my life gave me a daily subscription to The Washington Post.  This was in light of two obvious reasons NOT to give the paper to me–I don’t even have time to read my mail at night and the waste of whole “trees” in the production of a newspaper is completely against Roger’s “small footprint” philosophy.

Yet, here it is.  Every day.  Early–before 6:00 a.m.  It’s like getting a Christmas present because I’ve found some tidbit or other, in just about every issue, to fuel the Yule Log (love that pun).

halloran_thomas_9780807835876Sunday’s Washington Post had an excellent review of the new Thomas Nast biography by Fiona Deans Halloran, Thomas Nast:  The Father of Modern Political Cartoons.  I first wrote about Nast’s 1870’s drawings of Santa Claus as the origins of our modern-day depiction. (See post – February 16, 2012)

This biography examines three of Nast’s major contributions:  the elephant as mascot of the Republican Party, bringing down Tammany Hall and “Boss” William M. Tweed through his political cartoons, and the jolly old St. Nick drawings.  Jonathan Yardley’s review of the book is really interesting and reveals that the Santa drawings are more than just the “man.”  They also depicted children, sugarplums, and the sentimental trappings that get all of us excited about the holiday.  Since my American history knowledge is limited to the bare outlines, I think this book is just my style.12-thomas-nast-santa-claus-granger

I don’t know when I would get a chance to read it, though.  I have to get through a newspaper every day!

Finding Christmas- What’s Your Center?

nicholas-st-northI am continually on the watch for Christmas hidden in just about any time, place, or thing.  It’s part of being focused on Christmas all year round.  Last week I went with some friends to see the Dream Works movie Rise of the Guardians.  No, I wasn’t surprised to find a Christmas connection, it’s a Christmas season movie after all.  I was very surprised though in just how good it was and the great Christmas message it had to share.  It teaches about the importance of wonder, hope, dreams, and especially fun.  You also get a really strong story about knowing who you are and being that person, no matter what.  Check out the Guardians website for your own overview of the specifics, some games, clips, and a lot of fun.

rise-of-the-guardiansThe movie is based on a book series titled The Guardians of Children by William Joyce.  The story centers on the Guardians.  These are the protectors of children chosen by the Man in the Moon.  Each of the Guardians guards a particular part of being a child against the darkness of nightmares and fear, all controlled by the Bogeyman, Pitch.  Nicholas St. North (Santa Claus) is the guardian of wonder, the Tooth Fairy the guardian of memories, the Easter Bunny the guardian of hope, and the Sandman the guardian of dreams.  The Guardians must work with a newly chosen guardian, Jack Frost, to fight off the latest attack from Pitch.  The Children of the world give the power to the guardians through their belief in them.  It is that belief that makes it all possible.  Jack is frustrated because kids don’t believe in him so he isn’t “real”.

Rise of the Guardians 1This struggle leads to one of the best parts of the film.  North is trying to explain to Jack how it works.  He shares his own nesting doll to explain that it is who we are at our center that defines us.  North’s center is represented by a tiny wooden doll with HUGE eyes, the eyes of wonder.  He gives us wonder in everything, a magic in the air, lights in trees- he puts it into the World.  (Here’s a link to a low quality clip of North talking to Jack)  If Jack can find his center then children will believe in him and he will know what it is he is to be the guardian over for the children.  North’s center is Wonder and Jack must discover his center.  The journey he takes to find it and the connection to the Christmas spirit is a great story.  If you haven’t seen this movie yet, go now.  I plan to purchase my own DVD soon as I can!