Blog Description

A French-Inspired Garden and Home by Judith Stringham

B is for Books

Friday, November 3, 2023

Christmas traditions make the holiday special for families. This is the second post, B is for Books, in a series of posts similar to an Advent Calendar, but has 26 days for a look at Christmas traditions from A to Z that add sparkle, love, laughter, beauty, comfort, nostalgia, meaning, and joy to the Christmas season. 

May this A to Z  list, one letter per post, add some joy to your Christmas.

is for Books

Christmas books are the sources for many of our Christmas traditions. Foremost for many people is the Bible that tells the story of the birth of Christ with Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem. Angels, Wisemen, shepherds, the manger, stars, and gifts are parts of our Christmas traditions from the biblical stories. 

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens in 1843 is considered the first in a new literary genre of Christmas books. His descriptions of Christmas parties, singing carols, giving presents, Christmas trees, and the spirit of Christmas are the origins for many of our holiday traditions. 

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

Yet before Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Clement Clark Moore penned 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, originally titled A Visit from Saint Nicholas. Written for his children in 1822, and published in 1823, this poem is the origin for many Christmas traditions in England and the United States. Several descriptions in the beloved children's book are delightful scenes that call for vivid imaginations and suspension of reality. 

Moore created a world in which children were recipients of special gifts and treats from a benevolent unseen Saint Nicholas while children slept. 

Over the years the story in America began to be titled "The Night Before Christmas". New versions with beautiful illustrations continue to be published, each unique in the artists' interpretation of the narrative. 

Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

One of the most fanciful descriptions is Saint Nicholas delivering toys in a sack down a chimney. At the time the story was written fireplaces with chimneys existed in most homes. Even then adults could not fit down chimneys to clean them, but instead small boys were chimney sweeps. 

He had a broad Face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed,
like a bowlful of jelly.

Santa Claus is the name by which children in the United States call Saint Nicholas. Moore's description of Saint Nicholas is one of the lasting traditions of Saint Nicholas' physical features in the United States. Each year children still go to see Santa Claus with a beard white as snow and a round belly.   

Hand-carved Russian versions, known as Father Frost, are exquisite with elaborate robes, brilliant colors, and finely detailed facial features. Father Frost is not exactly the same as Santa Claus because the two have different origin tales with some different key points, yet there are similarities.  

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes St Nicholas soon would be there 

Stockings hanging by the fireplace filled with gifts also comes from 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. The tradition dates back to days when even the poorest families filled one of the father's actual stockings with only two to three items, including an orange. Oranges were a prized gift since they were usually only available on a regular basis to wealthy families. So, the story of Santa filling stockings with toys was a dream for children. 

The most wondrous tradition of flying reindeer was born in the A Visit from Saint Nicholas poem.  The story captured my heart many years ago, and I have a collection of beautifully illustrated editions of this timeless classic fantasy for children. All editions have stunning illustrations of the sleigh and eight tiny reindeer. The pop-up book illustrated by N. Puttapipat is one of my favorite reindeer illustrations. 

Two new red leather editions of The Night Before Christmas were published this year, both illustrated by Charles Santore and offered online by numerous retailers. 

While we celebrate several Christmas traditions about Santa Claus from the cherished poem, another tradition is to read the book to little ones at bedtime on Christmas Eve.