28 December 2011

A New Year of Classics

I hope everyone enjoyed the 1st Annual 25 Days of Christmas Nightlight Readings. I had so much fun researching the literary history of each posting. There is so much to look forward to in the new year, with weddings (including my own), new historical research and finds, the release of the 1940 census on Ancestry.com (FINALLY!), and so much more! So to start—the schedule for a new season of Masterpiece Classic. I am so looking forward to the 2nd season of Downton Abbey. If you haven't seen it before, I hope you caught up with the 1st season the last couple Sundays. If not, the last episode will be played this Sunday evening at 9. I believe it is available of Netflix as well. So without further ado, I give you the 2012 schedule (and it's a great line-up at that!)...


Masterpiece Classic

This winter and spring, Masterpiece classic returns with signature period dramas, hosted by Laura Linney.
  • December 18 & 25, 2011; January 1, 2012 at 9pm
    (Check local listings)
    Downton Abbey, Season One
    Episodes 1 & 2 (Dec. 18th - 180 minutes);
    Episodes 3-4 (90 minutes); TV-PG

    A stately country house, a noble family and a succession crisis are the backdrop for this Primetime Emmy® Award winning drama by Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) starring Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern and others.
  • January 8, 15, 22, 29; February 5, 12 & 19, 2012 at 9pm
    (Check local listings)
    Downton Abbey, Season Two
    Episode 1, 6 & 7 (120 minutes); Episodes 2-5 (60 minutes); TV-PG
    Multiple Primetime Emmy® Award winner (including Outstanding Miniseries) Downton Abbey resumes the story of aristocrats and servants in the tumultuous World War I era.
  • January 15, 22 & 29, 2012 at 10pm
    (Limited TV airings; Check local listings)
    Three 90-minute episodes
    Sherlock Holmes stalks again in this contemporary thriller, starring Benedict Cumberbatch (War Horse) as the go-to consulting detective in modern-day London, with Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) as Dr. John Watson.
  • February 26, 2012 at 9pm   (Check local listings)
    The Old Curiosity Shop
    One 90-minute episode
    A teenage girl and her grandfather lose everything to a maniacal moneylender and flee his relentless pursuit. Derek Jacobi (I, Claudius) stars as Grandfather, with Sophie Vavasseur (Northanger Abbey) as Nell and Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) as Quilp.
  • April 1 & 8, 2012 at 9pm   (Check local listings)
    Great Expectations
    Episode 1 (60 minutes); Episode 2 (120 minutes)
    Great Expectations tells the story of Pip the battered orphan boy, who rises from blacksmith's apprentice to gentleman under the patronage of a mysterious benefactor. Gillian Anderson (Bleak House), David Suchet (Hercule Poirot) and Ray Winstone star.
  • April 15, 2012 at 9pm   (Check local listings)
    The Mystery of Edwin Drood
    One 120-minute episode
    An adaptation and completion of Charles Dickens' last novel left unfinished at his death, The Mystery Of Edwin Drood is a psychological thriller about a provincial choirmaster's obsession with 17-year-old Rosa Bud. Cast includes Matthew Rhys (Brothers & Sisters) and Julia MacKenzie (Miss Marple).
  • April 22 & 29, 2012 at 9pm   (Check local listings)
    Two 90-minute episodes
    Based on Sebastian Faulk's novel about lovers torn apart by World War I. Eddie Redmayne (The Pillars of the Earth) plays Stephen Wrayford, whose pre-war affair with Isabelle Azaire (Clemence Poesy, Harry Potter) has an enduring effect on him as he fights in the trenches.

25 December 2011

Day 25 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: Luke Ch. 2

Through all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we often forget the true reason for the Christmas season: the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. The most well known telling of the nativity is Luke 2, with the announcement of the census issued by Caesar Augustus in 8 BC, so all the land of the Roman Empire could be taxed. Joseph and his new pregnant wife, then had to travel to the place of his birth, Bethlehem, to be counted in the census. Since everyone was on the road, traveling back to the place of their birth, there was no room for Joseph and Mary in the local inns. The only place available to stay the night was a stable, more than likely a cleft in a rock which would have been made into a livestock shelter. It was there that Mary brought God's Son into the world.

Meanwhile, in a field outside of Bethlehem, shepherds were guarding their sheep at night. Then a blessed sight descended upon them and angels appeared announcing the Messiah's birth, saying "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men." The shepherds then rushed to the stable to find the birth of Christ, praising God. From there they went around sharing with everyone the birth of the Messiah.

24 December 2011

Day 24 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: Coventry Mystery Plays

Most of us have heard "Coventry Carol" play on our Christmas Pandora Radio Station this year, but little known of the carol other than its a Christian noel.  The song was written to play in a collection of medieval plays in Coventry, England titled The Coventry Mystery Plays or Coventry Corpus Cristi Pageants (plays as such were performed to the common classes, as many could not read the Bible). Yes, they had Christmas pageants back in the 14th century. To this day, only two of the plays survived (historians predict there were dozens), one of which was called "The Shearmen and the Tailor's Pageant," a nativity play depicting the annunciation of Mary, the birth of Christ, and the massacre of the innocents (King Herod's orders to kill all male children under two years of age). In this very play the actors perform "Coventry Carol."

23 December 2011

Day 23 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: Polar Express

This evening my family, as well as our close family friends (practically family), are going to Hood River to ride The Polar Express. There is something so magical about this story—of a small boy doubting the truth about Santa Claus. On that magical Christmas Eve he is swept away by the Polar Express bound to the North Pole to visit Santa. At the North Pole one of the children are to be chosen to receive the first Christmas present and the small boy is chosen. But all he would like is a silver bell from Santa's sleigh. He puts it in his pocket, but as he returns home he finds that the bell slipped through a hole. Saddened he goes to bed to wake up Christmas morning. There is everything around the tree, but he is sad, until he finds a small gift from Santa with the bell inside. His parents cannot hear the sound of the bell, only he and his sister. For years he keeps the bell, but slowly each year fewer and fewer of his friends can hear the bells. Even his sister one year can no longer hear the bell. But even when he is old and gray the bell still rings for him.

22 December 2011

Day 22 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: The Gift of the Magi

The Gift of the Magi, written by O. Henry (aka William Sydney Porter) in 1906, is a short story about a married couple who try to buy each other a Christmas gift with what little money they have. In an ending of situational irony, both have sold something of their own in order to purchase a gift for their spouse. Della, the wife, sells her long hair to buy a chain for her husband, Jim's gold watch. And Jim sells his gold watch to buy Della expensive combs for her hair. They both realize at the end that all that really matters is each others love.

The book ends with this:
The magi, as you know, were wise men – wonderfully wise men – who brought gifts to the new-born King of the Jews in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. In a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as donors they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the Magi.
Since the story's publication there have been many adaptations. One which is still popular is "Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas."

21 December 2011

Day 21 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: Of the Father's Love Begotten

It is hard to say what the oldest Christmas carol is, but this one comes pretty close, as it was first written as a poem by the Roman poet Prudentius during the 4th century. It was then called Corde natus. Early Christmas hymns were written about the virgin birth, often chanted in mass (called plainchants—a melodic chant). Corde natus or "Of the Father's Love Begotten," was sung to the plainchant Divinium mysterium, in the earliest known manuscripts. The plainchant was not replaced by the poem in hymn until 1851.

I leave you tonight with this entertaining little bit from Darby above Notting Hill (say this in a British accent as you read it).

20 December 2011

Day 20 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: Madeline's Christmas

"In an old house in Paris, that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines... the smallest one was Madeline." Ludwig Bemelmans published six Madeline books during his lifetime, the last being Madeline's Christmas in 1956 (first published in McCall Magazine). I do not have a particular history to tell regarding this little book, just that it was one of my favorite Madeline books. In this particular story all the little girls are sick with a cold, except Madeline, and she has to take care of everyone—until she receives help from a magician. I know this story was enjoyed by my generation and my parents generation, and hopefully we can now share it with our future generations.

Day 19 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: "Santa Claus in Camp"

"Santa Claus in Camp"
As Clement Clark Moore lent tradition a vivid description of the 'jolly ol' elf,' Thomas Nast popularized the image of Santa Claus as we view him today: complete with red suit. His first published illustration of Santa Claus was in the January 1862 edition of Harper's Weekly. This issue included a full page spread of the sacrifices families were making the first Christmas of the American Civil War. (At this time the North was not fairing well in the war, as depicted in the smaller holly wreath below.) If you look close enough, there is a little Santa crawling into the chimney in the upper left corner.
"Christmas Eve"

Nast's inspiration in creating his vision of Santa Claus came from his German heritage, just as Moore was inspired. St. Nicholas, as the gift giver, was celebrated in Germany on December 6th. At was at this time, with the societal influence of Moore and Nast, that Santa Claus came to the United States as part of the secular and religious Christmas celebrations.

In most of Nast's Christmas illustrations he depicts Santa Claus, and as always the cartoons contain propaganda (if you didn't notice in the leading picture, Santa Claus is holding a puppet of Jefferson Davis). The following year, Nast drew the previous separated couple reunited.
"Christmas Eve, 1863"
By 1864, on the eve of Union victory, President Lincoln is shown absent of Santa Claus. In the illustration President Lincoln is shown ushering in soldiers into a banquet hall. The insets surrounding the large picture, show the Confederacy in acts of surrender and as the prodigal son returning home.
"The Union Christmas"
In the first Christmas illustration after the Civil War, a scene is drawn to illustrate the returning traditions of a "merry Christmas," now complete with the severed heads of former Confederate generals (at the bottom center of the picture).
"Merry Christmas to All"

"Santa Claus"

18 December 2011

Day 18 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: The Greatest Gift

"The Greatest Gift" is a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern about a man, by the name of George Pratt, who stands upon a bridge on Christmas Eve ready to commit suicide. It is there he meets a shabbily dressed, yet astute gentleman, and tells him that he wishes that he was never born. The gentleman says that he has got his wish and to go door to door as a brush salesman selling brushes. Everyone he meets does not know him. At his wife's house her husband shoos him away and when he goes to his childhood home he finds that his younger brother died in a drowning accident. He soon realizes that everyone he meets has been changed in a negative way because he was never born, so he returns to the bridge to wish that he had been born and that none of this ever happened. When he returns home to find his wife waiting for him, he embraces her and tells her that he is so happy that he never lost her. As he hugs her, he knocks a brush off the couch and realizes that the brush was one that he had given her earlier.

Sound familiar? Stern wrote the little story after a dream in the 1930s, but only printed 20 copies by 1943, passing out the copies to friends on Christmas. His story soon got out and RKO Productions' director showed it to Cary Grant who was interested in taking the lead and making it into a film. In 1945 Frank Capra bought the rights and adapted it into the movie we all know and love today "It's a Wonderful Life." Of course it was George Bailey in the movie instead of George Pratt, played by none other than Jimmy Stewart. And the man who visited him at the bridge was Clarence the angel who was trying to 'earn' his wings.

17 December 2011

Day 17 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: Silent Night

Silent Night tells the story of the Christmas Truce in 1914 during WWI. There is some variation on the story, but this book tells the true story behind the truce. The spontaneous truce which occurred in the trenches during Christmas, caused a moment of peace between the Germans, Scottish, and French soldiers. That very night they set aside their weapons and instead spent the evening exchanging goods, sharing food and drinks, and even sharing a song or two, one being "Silent Night" (which everyone knew in their own language).

Originally in German, an Austrian priest, wrote the Christmas hymn nearly a hundred years prior to the evening in the trenches. There are several myths surrounding the creation of the carol, but one seems pretty repetitive that Franz Gruber, the composer, wrote the song with a guitar melody because the church organ was broken. Whether this is accurate or not, is debatable.

As I was researching the Christmas Truce this evening I thought, wouldn't it have been cool to have an actual recording of the three opposing sides singing "Silent Night." Of course this is not possible, because (not to my knowledge) film was not being recorded on war front until WWII—and it was limited to even then. Now a-days, we would have seen the video go viral on YouTube and all the media sites. If only...the best I can do is show a clip from a French film (thanks to the suggestion of a teacher friend of mine) "Joyeux Noel."

15 December 2011

Day 16 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: Miracle on 34th Street

Did you know that "Miracle on 34th Street" was also a novel? I just discovered this this evening as I watch the Christmas classic on AMC. I have not read the book, but the same gentleman who wrote the screenplay also wrote the novel, both released in 1947.

At first George Seaton was underwhelmed with the making of the movie and decided the only way for the movie to actually become a success was to release it in May, because most Americans watched movies during the summer. While promoting the movie they kept the Christmas setting a secret, as seen in the trailer, and kept Santa Claus in the background of the movie posters. Today is one of the most popular Christmas movies shown on TV during the holiday season.

Day 15 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: A Christmas Carol

Forgive me dear readers for not posting yesterday. I did not forget—Christmas shopping just takes a lot out of you. Since I neglected "Christmas Nightlight Readings" yesterday I will give you two today, starting with one of the most famous and adaptable Christmas stories from none other but Charles Dickens.

We have seen this story over and over again on film and stage, from "A Muppet Christmas Carol" (one of my favorites) to George C. Scott in "A Christmas Carol." I don't need to fill you in on the plot, because I don't know anyone who doesn't know the story. So as routine suggests, I will tell you the story behind the story.

As written in an earlier post, O Tannenbaum, the Victorian era reintroduced the tradition of the Christmas tree (via Queen Victoria and her German husband Prince Albert) to the world as well as many other traditions. The Victorian era was fraught with the coal smoke of the Industrial Revolution and capitalism was sweeping Christmas traditions under the rug. During the 1840s, when Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, Englishmen were trying to reinvigorate traditions. In many ways Dickens own childhood inspired the characters and the plot, for he experienced a humiliating childhood and had great sympathy for the poor (he grew up poor). Immediately upon publication the book was a hit in Great Britain, but it received less enthusiasm in America (this was soon after Dickens' tourist journal of America was published and there were some hard feelings).

By the end of the Civil War, nearly every other household in America owned or had read A Christmas Carol. The story helped Americans remember the spirit of kindness and generosity. This story has been such a great influence, several adaptations have been produced (with an influx of made-for-TV movies). There is even evidence in its inspiration in "It's a Wonderful Life," and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

13 December 2011

Day 14 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: Greensleeves

Just as the tune of "O Tannenbaum" has been used in many songs, so has "Greensleeves." Originally believed to have been written by King Henry VIII for Anne Boleyn, as he was trying to woe her and was at first rejected, historians now say that the song is Elizabethan. They say thus, because the song is written in an Italian composition that did not migrate to England until after his death. We further know that the song was well known by Shakespeare's time, for he mentions the song in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

More popularly played during the Christmas season is "What Child is This?" in the "Greensleeves" tune, which was written in 1865 by William Chatterton Dix, a surgeon and hymn writer. With the tune sped up is the older and traditional "I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In" (which is one of my favorites by Nat King Cole), which can be traced back to 17th century Derbyshire.

"I Saw Three Ships," is about three ships sailing into Bethlehem carrying the magi after the birth of Christ on Christmas morning. We all know the song lyrics are not historically accurate as the magi more than likely arrived two years after Jesus' birth and the closest body of water is the Dead Sea, which is at least 20 miles away. It is possible that the song is inspired from an event that took place in the 12th century, when relics of the magi sailed into Cologne, Germany to the site of the Cologne Cathedral (which had been previously housed in Milan, Italy at the basilica—some of the relics have since returned to Milan).

12 December 2011

Day 13 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King

As it has been so cold outside these last few days, I am often reminded of one of my favorite Nutcracker suits, "Waltz of the Snowflakes." (Still waiting on our first winter snow.) The story was written by E.T.A. Hoffmann in 1816. Most of us either see The Nutcracker ballet around the holiday season or are familiar with it. We all know the story of Marie who is gifted a Nutcracker doll by her godfather, a clockmaker. However, the nutcracker isn't just any doll, for as midnight falls the Nutcracker comes to life, fights the evil mouse king, and sweeps Marie off to a magical land of sugar plums and snowflakes.

The earliest version of the wooden doll nutcrackers can be traced to the woodcarving towns of 17th century Germany, next to wood toys. As Germans immigrated, so did these nutcrackers. They did not specifically become part of the Christmas holiday, although they were often given as gifts, but they did become a common winter commodity as nuts were often harvested after the first frost. I don't know about you, but nut varieties and nutcrackers seemed to be a Christmas staple in our house growing up—Santa always left nuts and handpicked nectarines in my stocking.

So as the night drops into the low 20s (unfortunately with no snow in sight), I leave you with this favorite Nutcracker performance:

11 December 2011

Day 12 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: Once in the Year

Elizabeth Yates, a celebrated Newbery Award winning author, wrote this little Christmas novel, which I have in my collection of "A Newbery Christmas." A story centered around the legend of Christmas Eve when the animals speak. Peter, a little boy who lives on a farm, decides to sleep out in the barn on Christmas Eve to see if the animals do talk. At midnight he suddenly realizes that the animals pick up a conversation in telling the story of the Nativity.

We are all familiar with the story of Jesus' birth: born humbly in a manger. At the time of His birth, the animals—in praise unto God—began to speak of the miracle. This legend, which is quite prolific in the Scandinavian countries, still brings children out of their warm beds at midnight on Christmas to see if they can hear the animals speak.

10 December 2011

Day 11 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: O Tannenbaum

The tradition of Christmas trees are originally a German one, that can be traced back to the ancient Gauls, who used to surround their homes with evergreen branches during winter. But if you think about, the decorated Christmas trees of our modern tradition are rather new. Most give the introduction of the Christmas tree tradition to Queen Victoria, but already the tradition was spreading from Germany as Germans were immigrating from their country. Queen Victoria herself grew up with two Christmas trees set up in her room every year, but with the printing of the above illustration in Godey's Lady's Book in December of 1850, this new tradition of decorating a family Christmas tree was spreading rapidly through the Western world. This image was continually reprinted in such feminine magazines like Godey's every year and by 1870 setting up a Christmas tree in the family home was a common thing.

Since we can trace the Christmas tree tradition back to Germany, so can we trace one of the oldest Christmas carols, "O Tannenbaum" (translated 'fir tree' but sung "O Christmas Tree" in English). The earliest known written lyrics can be dated back to 1550. The popular tune, which has been used to the lyrics of state anthems, and have been in everything from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" to "Glee."

So as we decorate our Christmas tree, I am reminded of the old tradition of evergreens and how commonplace the tradition may now seem for us today were not as familiar to our ancestral counterparts. The tradition of a decorated Christmas tree is a rather new one in America.

09 December 2011

Day 10 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

The year was 1939, the Great Depression continued, and the Montgomery Ward department store was feeling the economic stress. Every year at Christmas time, they had given coloring books out to children, but they decided that it would be cheaper and more efficient to make their own book. So they hired one of their copywriters, Robert L. May, to write a story that can be given to children as they visited Santa Claus. The story of the 9th reindeer, Rudolph, was born. This little retail gimmick turned into something bigger than they could have imagined. During the first year of publication, over two million copies were sold.

In 1947 a cartoon short based on the book was released, and ten years after the book was first published, a song written by May's brother-in-law Johnny Marks was sung by Gene Autry. The song became even more popular with the renditions of Bing Crosby and Burl Ives. The story has expanded to every generation with the Rankin/Bass stop motion movie made in 1964 (which is more based off of the Johnny Marks song than the actual book), which we all know and love (it will be on CBS tomorrow night at 8).

08 December 2011

Day 9 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash

Every morning on Christmas Day, we wake up in our house to a brightly lit Christmas tree, Christmas music on the stereo, and "A Christmas Story" playing quietly on the television. TBS has begun a tradition in almost every household of 24 hours of "A Christmas Story." And every year we watch as Ralphie comes down the stairs dressed in a ridiculous pink bunny outfit, nearly "shoots his eye out," and the turkey gets eaten by the Bumpuse's hillbilly dogs. In our house we continuously quote the movie: "I can't put my arms down," "It says 'fra-gi-le. It must be French!" "Meatloaf, smeatloaf, double-beatloaf, I hate meatloaf," "You'll shoot your eye out, kid," "That's mine. OOo, that's mine! Ooo, a firetruck! That's mine."

We all know the movie, but we all know the book it is adapted from. Like most movies, there is some truth behind the fiction. Written by Jean Shepherd in 1966, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, the short stories are set around the small Indian town during the Christmas season. Based on the true childhood of Shepherd, he too hoped for a Red Ryder BB Gun.

To tide us over until Christmas:

07 December 2011

Day 8 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: Winston Churchill's Christmas Eve Speech, 1941

In honor of today, in remembrance of Pearl Harbor, I thought it suitable to post Winston Churchill's Christmas Eve message from 1941. Many books were written on the subject and I'll post them here, but I thought first I would talk about the message. Three days before Christmas Churchill showed up at the White House, deciding to spend his holiday in America on eve of WWII. During the presentation of the White House Christmas tree, both FDR and Churchill gave a message to honor the occasion prior to Churchill lighting the tree.

I spend this anniversary and festival far from my country, 

far from my family, and yet I cannot truthfully say that

 I feel far from home.  Whether it be the ties of blood 

on my mother's side, or the friendships I

have developed here over many years of active life, 

or the commanding sentiment of comradeship

 in the common cause of great peoples 

who speak the same language, who kneel at the 

same altars and, to a very large extent, pursue 

the same ideals; I cannot feel myself a stranger 

here in the center and at the summit of the United States. 

 I feel a sense of unity and fraternal association which, 

added to the kindliness of your welcome, convinces me 

that I have a right to sit at your fireside and

share your Christmas joys.

Fellow workers, fellow soldiers in the cause, 

this is a strange Christmas Eve.  Almost the 

whole world is locked in deadly struggle.  Armed 

with the most terrible weapons which science can 

devise, the nations advance upon each other. 

 Ill would it be for us this Christmastide if we were not 

sure that no greed for the lands or wealth of any other 

people, no vulgar ambitions, no morbid lust for material 

gain at the expense of others had led us to the field.  

Ill would it be for us if that were so.  Here, in

the midst of war, raging and roaring over all the lands and seas, 

sweeping nearer to our hearths and homes; here, amid 

all these tumults, we have tonight the peace of the spirit 

in each cottage home and in every generous

heart.  Therefore we may cast aside, for this night at least, 

the cares and dangers which beset us and make for the

 children an evening of happiness in a world of storm.  

Here then, for one night only, each home throughout the 

English-speaking world should be a brightly lighted 

island of happiness and peace.

Let the children have their night of fun and laughter, let the gifts of 

Father Christmas delight their play.  Let us grown-ups share to the full 

in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern tasks 

and the formidable years that lie before us, resolved that by

 our sacrifice and daring these same children shall not be 

robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a 

free and decent world.

And so, in God's mercy, a happy Christmas to you all.
 To hear the whole broadcast, play this Youtube video:

Two books that have been published in the last couple of years are centered around that "infamous" Christmas Eve.

06 December 2011

Day 7 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

A childhood classic, originally published in 1957, Dr. Seuss was at his genius again with How the Grinch Stole Christmas. As a child we do not realize it, but the story is about the commercialization and exploitation of Christmas. The story is about the Grinch who does everything in his power to stop Christmas, stealing presents, decorations, and even who-ham (in some ways the Grinch follows the tradition of Ebenezer Scrooge). He thinks that if he could steal everything then the citizens of Whoville will not have Christmas. However, this does not stop the holiday, for all the Whos come out Christmas morning to sing around their naked tree and celebrate togetherness and the spirit of Christmas. Realizing his big mistake, the Grinch sheds a tear and his heart grows ten sizes in result.

Not only is this one of my favorite children's Christmas books, it has to be one of my favorite animated films of the holidays, as well as a full length motion picture.

05 December 2011

Day 6 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: 5135 Kensington; or, Meet Me in St. Louis

I don't know about you, but whenever I think about one of my favorite movies, "Meet Me in St. Louis," I can't help but think of Christmas and my all-time favorite song, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Although there have to be a hundred different versions, Judy Garland still does the best rendition. You might be wondering why I choose "Meet Me in St. Louis," for Day 6, because it's a movie not a book, which you are absolutely right! But one thing many people don't realize about this movie, is that the story is actually an adaptation of the memoir vignettes of Sally Benson (the real Esther Smith—played by Judy Garland). The stories were first titled "5135 Kensington," but in 1942 as the movie was being scripted, Benson added a few more chapters and titled it "Meet Me in St. Louis" after the script. (Benson wrote an early addition of the screenplay that was never used.)

If you are interested in reading the book, it is available at Amazon here.

One of my favorite scenes is when Esther returns from her Christmas ball to see Tootie still up, waiting for Santa Claus, worried that Santa may not find them next year after they move from St. Louis. Of course, Judy Garland begins to sing my all time favorite song. (Although in the movie they end up not moving from St. Louis, in the real story the family does move—but MGM did not think that would be an appropriate ending—after all happy endings sold tickets!)

04 December 2011

Day 5 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: Little Women, Ch. 1-3

Just this summer I spent a week visiting my best friend in Boston, Massachusetts. During my visit I was able to take a day trip to Concord. (To read about my visit, go here.) A New England town full of literary history, we were able to see the home of Louisa May Alcott where she wrote Little Women. This story has always been a favorite of mine and probably helped influence my love of the era of the American Civil War.

If anyone was curious how Christmas was in the North during the Civil War, Little Women is a great example. For the last couple of years, one evening before Christmas, I take a moment to read the first few chapters of the book in which the March sisters celebrate Christmas in the midst of the war (absent of their father).

It opens with the sisters complaining of their poor status and how Christmas would not be the same without presents, and without Father (Beth of course is not one of the girls complaining). In the second chapter they awake Christmas morning, but Marmee is gone taking care of a sick poor family. When their mother returns the girls are hungry waiting for their Christmas breakfast. However, in the spirit of Christmas they decide to go trekking through the snow to bring their breakfast and Christmas to the home of the poor family. Generosity and charity make the best Christmas stories. In the third chapter, Jo and Meg are invited to a New Years Eve party at the Gardiners, where despite some mishaps with a curling iron, getting too close to the fire, and stained gloves, they have a festive time (this is also where Laurie first graces the tale).

I have always loved this story—to think Louisa May Alcott did not really want to write the story and in fact called it "dull" after completing the first few chapters—and I will continue to love this story. I might even open the first few pages tonight before bed. Enjoy!

*If you are interested in how this story has helped inspire me and how it influenced my own writing, read this excerpt from my manuscript.

03 December 2011

Day 4 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: "Mr. Edward's Meets Santa Claus" in Little House on the Prairie

Spending some father time this afternoon, helping him put up Christmas lights, reminded me of one of our favorite shared classics, Little House on the Prairie. One of the most well known stories within the book is the story of Mr. Edwards, the friendly backwoods' man, trekking through bad weather and a swollen creek to bring presents to the Ingalls girls from Santa Claus. The story goes where the Ingalls girls, knowing there was no way Santa Claus could cross the creek, fell asleep in their beds hoping they would wake to something. And something was exactly what they woke up to: Mr. Edwards soaked through and teeth chattering.
"No creek could stop me, after I fetched them their gifts from Independence."
Laura sat straight up in the bed. "Did you see Santa Claus?" she shouted.
"I sure did," Mr. Edwards said.
"Where? When? What did he look like? What did he say? Did he really give you something for us?" Mary and Laura cried...
When he saw the creek rising, Mr. Edwards said, he had known that Santa Claus could not get across it....And Mr. Edwards reasoned that if Santa Claus couldn't cross the creek, likely he would come no farther south than Independence...
And there, coming down the street in Independence, he had met Santa Claus...
Well, the first thing Santa Claus said was, "Hello, Edwards..."
So Santa said, "Hello, Edwards! Last time I saw you you were sleeping on a cornshuck bed in Tennessee..."
Then Santa Claus said: "I understand your living now down along the Verdigris River. Have you ever met up, down yonder, with two little young girls named Mary and Laura?"
"I surely am acquainted with them," Mr. Edwards replied.
"It rests heavy on my mind," said Santa Claus. "They are both of them sweet, pretty, good little young things, and I know they are expecting me. I surely do hate to disappoint two good little girls like them. Yet with the water up the way it is, I can't ever make it across the creek. I can figure no way whatsoever to get to their cabin this year. Edwards," Santa Claus said. "Would you do me the favor to fetch them their gifts this one time?"
"I'll do that, and with pleasure," Mr. Edwards told them.
Then Santa Claus and Mr. Edwards stepped across the street to the hitching-posts where the pack-mule was tied. ("Didn't he have his reindeer?" Laura asked. "You know he couldn't," Mary said. "There isn't any snow." Exactly, said Mr. Edwards. Santa Claus traveled with a pack-mule in the southwest.)
And Santa Claus uncinched the pack and looked through it, and he took out the presents for Mary and Laura...
Then he shook hands with Mr. Edwards and he swung up on his fine bay horse. Santa Claus rode well for a man of his weight and build. And he tucked his long, white whiskers under his bandana. "So long, Edwards," he said, and he rode away on the Fort Dodge trail, leading his pack-mule and whistling...

From Santa Claus they received a shiny tin cup, heart-shaped cakes, peppermint sticks, and a penny for each of them. To our own ears—such simplicity! But Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the story so fondly, you would think the tin cup was made of gold, the little cakes made from the best baker in NYC, peppermint imported from Europe, and a million dollars! To Laura, this was one of their most memorable Christmases, where the simple joy in presents from Santa Claus brightened the day. The story is a good reminder to be grateful for what you have and there is great joy in simplicity. (One of my most memorable birthdays was when my family and I were snowed-in, I received a single gift of a birthstone ring, we watched a movie borrowed from our neighbors, and my mom made spice cake from a box found in the back of the pantry with leftover Christmas whipping cream.)

02 December 2011

Day 3 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

In September of 1897 a little girl, as most children do at her age, was contemplating the existence of Santa Claus. As she was an astute child (after all she was a doctor's daughter), she thought it necessary to inquire upon the truth. So she decided to write a letter to the editor of The New York Sun, and this is what she penned:
DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?
The reply, which we now know was veteran newsman, Francis P. Church, has been one of the most reprinted editorials in history. Not only becoming a published children's book (Yes, Virginia, 1971), but also—with the great sponsorship and the commercialization of Macy's—has become a CBS Christmas special. Even in one of my favorite Holiday classics, "Prancer," the last couple paragraphs are read. After reading the article, even the scroogiest Santa critic, will become a believer of Claus.

The original article from The New York Sun (Sep. 21, 1897)

01 December 2011

Day 2 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: A Visit from St. Nicholas

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro' the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon will be there...
Most of us have the poem memorized (or at least parts of it) and have seen many cartoon shorts depicting the story, but almost no one realizes the impact on Christmas and the jolly old elf himself, Santa Claus. Written by Clement Clarke Moore in 1823 after a snow sleigh ride for his children. Of course the concept of St. Nicholas has graced Christmas Day since early dates, but this is the first instance that St. Nick arrived on Christmas Eve being pulled through the sky on a sleigh with eight tiny reindeer. The image described of Santa Claus in this poem is the way we recognize him today: rosy cheeks, snow-white beard, a round belly that "shook like a bowl full of jelly." Prior to this poem—of course there was always St. Nicholas—the concept of Christmastide visitors and Santa Claus varied. This was the first instance that Santa Claus was conceptualized in every American (and later Europe) home and childhood heart.

For further detail on the Santa Claus we know today, this is a great video!

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