Sunday, December 29, 2013

New vintage Christmas books

We stopped in at one of the antique markets this weekend, and I picked up a couple of Christmas books I had never seen before.  Actually there was one other one I liked too...liked a lot, actually... but it was more than I wanted to spend.  This is the one I didn't buy:

More about Sing for Christmas here.  (maybe I'll get it on a return trip)

These are the ones I did buy:

A Partridge in a Pear Tree is subtitled A Celebration for Christmas, arranged by Neville Braybrooke, with decorations by Barbara Jones and Children of the Henry Fawcett School. It was published in London in 1960. There are eight full-colour plates of children's artwork, and almost two hundred pages of Christmas stories, poems, and other bits and pieces. This book, in spite of the very charming paintings, has a bit of a dark side; it reminds me of the way C.S. Lewis described the books in his childhood home, with that suitable / maybe suitable / definitely not suitable randomness of all the centuries of Christmas. Some of the pieces included, especially the newer ones, are a little strange, slightly curmudgeonly, or at least not always particularly cheerful: Edward Burne-Jones complains about how much he hates and loathes winter and everything about it; George Gissing "jealously guards [his] Christmas solitude"; and Marion Agnew spends Christmas administering painkillers to her dying husband. Those stories aren't the sort you pick for church programs or hot-chocolate-by-the-fire family times; but, like the pickled things people used to make at Christmas to balance out the sweets, they do have their own merits.

 But there are more cheerful choices too, like G.K. Chesterton's Christmas poem to his wife. The editor says, "I have chosen work by those of every and no belief, since every year towards the end of December there descends on earth a peace and good will toward men which no amount of commercialism or cheap vulgarity can destroy."

 The other book is Once in the Year: A Christmas Story, by Elizabeth Yates, illustrated with lithographs by Nora S. Unwin, from 1947.  It's a short book that involves Peter and his family, characters from her books Mountain Born and A Place for Peter; it's also a framework for the retelling of two Christmas legends and the Christmas story from St. Luke's gospel.  The whole thing has a nice, sepia, handcrafted, friendly-beasts feel; it would be a lovely book to share with children in December.

 To quote the story, "When something wonderful happens to people on Christmas Eve, it is to be cherished in the heart and in the mind. We must not be afraid of the wonderful things, nor must we let others laugh them away from us. Only thus do we learn to hold our dreams."

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