Review of The Birds’ Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggin

“The book, the dear, enlivening, enchanting, stimulating, informing, uplifting book, is the most faithful of all allies, and, after human friendship, the chief solace as well as the most inspiring influence in human life.”

Kate Douglas Wiggin

What a dear book this is! The Birds’ Christmas Carol is about a family who stays cheerful, strong, industrious and generous, even amid sad circumstances that require constant sacrifice.

One reason I picked this up was because I was familiar with the author, who is best known for her book Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

Another reason was because I thought this book had to do with feathered friends! I imagined a delightful story about birds singing in snow-covered pines during the holiday season. But actually it is about a girl named Carol born on Christmas Day into a family with the last name of Bird.

From childhood, little Carol had a sparkling personality, always finding ways to share whatever she had, help other people, compliment them and encourage them. When her brother wondered aloud why she wouldn’t take a bite of food until she’d given some of it away, their mother said, “She is a little Christmas child, and so she has a tiny share of the blessedest birthday the world ever saw!”

As she’d grown older, Carol had “wished everybody a Merry Christmas before it was light in the morning, and lent everyone her new toys before noon.”

She had never been physically strong, and by age 10 she was a helpless invalid, yet that didn’t dampen her spirits. Since she had to spend all of her time in her room, her father renovated it so that it was a conservatory full of windows.

She had the company of birds in cages, and hundreds of books which Carol turned into her own circulating library. Every Saturday she loaned ten books to the children’s hospital, and the patients who read her books would write letters to her to thank her.

In warm-weather Carol had a “window school” where she read to the poor neighbors next door, the Ruggles. She was so contented she called herself a “Bird of Paradise”.

Carol wrote a magazine article about living in her own room for three years, and what she did to amuse herself. With the money she earned from the article, she decided to treat the nine Ruggles children to something they had never before experienced: a grand Christmas dinner—in her own room! She paid for the food and decorations, a Christmas tree and presents.

According to my book, The Birds’ Christmas Carol was first published in 1895. However, on further research, I discovered that it was originally published privately in 1886 by the American author, and copyright in 1888 by Houghton, Mifflin Company, U.S.

My copy of this little 72-page book was published by A. & C. Black Ltd., London, in 1929, and illustrated by Francis E. Hiley, an extremely prolific and popular self-taught artist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

When I read the inscription, I thought, “Auntie Kate Douglas Wiggin? Did the author give the copy I am holding in my hand to her nieces?” But that isn’t possible, as the author had been born in 1856 and died in 1923.

According to her autobiography, Wiggin described her childhood as happy. But at the age of 9, her country grieved over the death of Abraham Lincoln. She described this event as her “first conscious recognition of the greatness of individual character.” It no doubt helped her form fictional children and adults in her books who developed great character struggling with tragedies.

Another influence was undoubtedly the books she read. Her favorite author was Charles Dickens, and she also read Harper’s Magazine and Littell’s Living Age, the Bible, and the most popular great novels of the era.

She dedicated this book “To all lovers of little children”, which clearly included the author. In 1878 at the age of 22—before marrying Samuel Wiggin—Kate Douglas Smith headed the Silver Street Kindergarten in San Francisco—the first free kindergarten on the West Coast of the United States. She is also credited with leading the kindergarten education movement in the United States. In fact, she wrote this little book and another, The Story of Patsy, to help fund the California Kindergarten Training School, which she helped establish.

Translated into several other languages, The Birds’ Christmas Carol sold over a million copies and remains in print. This little book was so successful, it allowed Kate Wiggin to become a full-time author and to travel extensively in Europe.

I found it interesting when I read references to the toys of that era: “So Donald took his velocipede and went out to ride up and down the stone pavement, and notch the shins of innocent children as they passed by, while Paul spun his musical top on the front steps.” A velocipede is one of the earliest forms of bicycles for children and adults—without pedals—and the musical top is a classic toy available even today.

The Birds’ Christmas Carol is the most famous of all American Christmas stories; here, if anywhere in the collection, we have Victorian tearfulness; but age has its privileges, and Americans have wept too often over this tale to decline to weep once again.”

editor Edward Wagenknecht in The Fireside Book of Christmas Stories

You can read this illustrated book online for free at Gutenberg.org.

I was delighted to discover many more delightful works by this author. One short piece, written about a surprise meeting at the age of 6 with her beloved Charles Dickens, is a must-read, here.

There are 48 of her books and short stories at Gutenberg.org, available in many formats, including the work that sold more copies than any other book (other than Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and The Birds’ Christmas Carol), Mother Carey’s Chickens.

Also at Gutenberg.org are two more Christmas stories by Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin: The Romance of a Christmas Card and The Old Peabody Pew.

Enjoy!

And Happy New Year!

Image courtesy of Susan Cipriano susan-lu4esm at Pixabay

Hedgerow Tales, Mrs. Gatty’s Parables of Nature

Of all the revived, republished classic books available, the 4 Hedgerow Tales are my favorites.

These were ahead of their time, “retold” back in the 1980s, forerunners of the latest trend. The illustrations by Sandra Fernandez are exquisite and appear on almost every page. (Note that these Hedgerow Tales are not related to Enid Blyton’s Hedgerow Tales.)

From the cover, they appear to be children’s picture books, which usually have few words. But these are fairly lengthy stories.

And as the author was schooled in the early 1800s when students were required to demonstrate an excellent vocabulary and use of language, these have more depth in the plot and a richer language than a typical picture book.  In fact, you’d probably need to read it aloud to children under 8.

The story of Charlotte the Caterpillar is about hope, faith and eternal life. Just as Charlotte learns faith from the lark’s wise words, to have faith is to be sure of things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.

The theme of Benjamin Bee is contentment, and a willingness to use the particular gifts God has given us so that the whole community (in this case, the hive) works together.

The story of Robin Redbreast is about God’s provision for those who trust him, even in difficult times.

The theme of Jeremy Cricket is “the heart’s true home–heaven. “This world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.”

In the Hedgerow Tales, Pat Wynnejones retells 4 of the 29 stories from the 1855 book by Margaret Gatty, Parables of Nature.

Mrs. Gatty begins her preface to her collection of stories, Parables from Nature, with a quote from Sir Thomas Browne from his Religio Medici:

There are two books from whence I collect my divinity; besides that written one of God, another of his servant, Nature–that universal and public manuscript that lies expanded unto the eyes of all: those that never saw Him in the one have discovered Him in the other… Those strange and mystical transmigrations that I have observed in silkworms turned my philosophy into divinity. There is in these works of Nature, which seem to puzzle reason, something divine…

Mrs. Gatty was also a marine biologist.

She was well known among professional marine biologists and had several species named after her! The book she wrote in the mid-1850s, British Seaweeds, was of such high quality it was still being used in the 1950’s.

One account of her life says, “To be treated as an equal by men of science gave her a pleasure as great as any of her achievements in the literary world.” It also tells how a memorial tablet in Ecclesfield Church was raised by a public subscription by more than a thousand children ‘as a token of love and gratitude for the many books she wrote for them.’

Publishing timeline of Margaret Gatty’s books

Here is an interesting graphic from WorldCat of her publishing timeline. I love seeing how interest in her books has increased since the turn of the (21st) century!

An interesting side note is that Margaret Gatty’s daughter, Juliana Ewing, was also an accomplished writer, and lived for a time in Canada. Rudyard Kipling mentioned Juliana in his autobiography, and Henry James called her book Jackanapes “a genuine little masterpiece, a wonderful little mixture of nature and art.”

I think it’s delightful that so many homeschooling families use the classics as part of their teaching materials. AmblesideOnline, a free homeschool curriculum, includes a rephrased version of Parables of Nature here.

You can read the 450-word Parables of Nature book for free!

You can buy the four individual Hedgerow Tales books from Better World Books. I like this online bookstore because they have great service and low prices (with no shipping cost–including international shipping!). I’m partial to them because of their values and impact .”Every time you purchase a book from BetterWorldBooks.com, we donate a book to someone in need.”

You can read Parables of Nature online here , download it free to read in various formats at Internet Archive, and download the audio book at LibriVox .

Treat yourself and your family to feel-good, inspirational stories and visual feast of realistic, vibrant art!

I’d love to hear if you’ve read these, or anything like them–drop me a note below!   {{{HUGS}}}

Unsung heroes in Canadian History

I grew up in the U.S. in a predominantly white neighborhood during the sixties and seventies. My city’s school system began forced busing when I was eleven years old, just as I was leaving elementary school and preparing to start junior high. It was a controversy that sparked violence and unrest.

From a social media group established for our 40 year high school reunion, I know that many people of all races suffered from this mandatory integration. Personally, aside from a couple minor incidents, my memories of that time are good.

I enjoyed meeting new friends of all races, and grew in my respect toward my non-white classmates. I am sure that the forced busing policy accomplished some of its goals to intermix blacks and whites successfully.

(If you’re interested, here are two articles I saved from the city newspaper in the early 1970s. One covers a sit-in protest by students, and another shows a more peaceful option for trying to find common ground among different races.)

So did that experience influence the writing of my third book? You decide.

Last year I was pleased to write another educational book intended for the Canadian school curriculum. It turned out to be my favorite so far!

This is the first biographical work I’ve done, and I so enjoyed discovering many unsung heroes!  It was nearly impossible to choose which to include in the book, but I am so happy with how the book turned out. I especially love the many full-sized photos.

Some of the heroes included are:

Rose Fortune, Viola Desmond, Addie Aylestock,

Oscar Peterson, Willie O’Ree, Portia White,

Drake, Phylicia George, and Eugenia Duodo.

I hope you’ll be curious enough to look up these great Canadians!

Black History in Canada is a series of educational books published by Beech Street books. My book is entitled Famous Black Canadians and intended for students in grades 4 through 6.

 

For any teachers out there, you can find the series at Beech Street Books‘ website and order from there, or from Amazon .

 

Fun and Frolic: Stories for the Young from the 1800s

Such a pleasant peek into the

simple family life of the late 1800’s

Ah, the simple innocence of that era. It makes one want to time-travel there for a day, or a year! Obviously, not everyone in 1888 had the leisure shown in this book, there were certainly just as many who had hard and meager lives. But no doubt a book like this brought smiles to many.

This sweet picture book of 45 pages has a short story or vignette that fits on one page, and an illustration in color or black and white to go with it. In tiny writing on the bottom left corner of the cover it says, “Copyright 1888 by J.L. Blamire.”

 

On the front cover, children are spending time indoors with an unhurried mother, playing with wooden animals and soldiers. It’s interesting to me that children throughout history have enjoyed playing with toy animals, and that animals in general have drawn the attention and affection of children.

I have also seen toys, and toys in books, from various periods in history that include soldiers and equipment for battles. Does that mean that wars are constantly raging throughout history, and children are aware of them because their fathers are away fighting? Or perhaps many of the famous men and women in countries all over the world have been war heroes, and the children grow up wanting also to be heroes?

The inside cover has the neatly hand-written name of the book’s owner, whose last name appears to be Ratledge. But with a little imagination it could instead be Routledge, to match the name of the publisher…a gift from the publisher, Uncle Routledge?

The stories in the book are not earth-shattering or dramatic. They are everyday happenings. But they are related here as the little joys that are present in each day, if we pay attention to them.

The first story pays homage to the world’s grandmothers, which I appreciate, being a grandma of 14 months. It tells of a grandson who learned to whistle before his first birthday, from hearing the other boys in the neighborhood whistling as he was wheeled around in his carriage.

The next story is in noticeably larger type, and includes dashes in the words to divide the syllables for the benefit of young readers.

These little stories told in first person talk of domestic life and the regular events of mothers and their children, who dearly love their parents, siblings and grandparents.

Fun and Frolic Stories includes poetry and information about nature and animals.

The poem “Blowing Bubbles” is surprisingly philosophical, likening the bubbles to our dreams.  It asks a question of the adult reading the book:

Will it be always so–are we the same?

We blow our bubbles too, changed but in name.

We have fond hopes, that expand and look bright;

We watch our fancies with eager strained sight.

Tucked between the back page and the back cover is a drawing of a butterfly on 5″ x 7″ lined paper, likely inspired by the “Butterflies” poem. I doubt that this is was drawn by the book’s first owner in the late 1800s, or even from the early 1900s. I suspect it was drawn on a lined pad for letter writing from the 1950s or later.

 

The back cover shows another scene of mother relaxing with her child outside on a grassy slope. In the scene are baby birds nesting in a woman’s bonnet, looking for worms from their busy mother.

There are remnants of some dried blue flowers tucked into the pages. I always love little surprises like that!

Various artists contributed their talents to the book, but at that time they apparently didn’t include the names of the illustrators, although some of the drawings include signatures of initials or names in the corners.

I couldn’t find another copy of this book anywhere online, but there are many books from the late 1800s published by George Routledge & Sons, such as Little Snowdrop’s Picture Book, published in 1879, available as a Kindle book. J.L. Blamire appears to be the manager of a New York Routledge & Sons bookseller and possibly an author, and/or editor.

I hope you enjoyed “reading” this with me. What fun to have such a pleasant and colorful history lesson couched in with a lovely piece of literature!

Imagine! The best quality books for free!

Well, you don’t need to imagine it, it’s true!

As a fellow blogger said, “I rarely pay full price for books. Loving classics has its advantages, they are widely available and utterly cheap.”

I couldn’t agree more!

Ever since I figured out how to put them on my Kindle, I’ve had a blast finding vintage treasures on Gutenberg.org, Internet Archive, Google eBooks and many other websites, including searching for free classic Kindle books on Amazon.  I’ve also discovered many books in PDF format that I put on my ancient tablet to read, and many of these have beautiful illustrations.

Here is a sampling of some of my favorites, followed by some links to whet your appetite even more!

After reading biographical information on the poet Francis Ridley Havergal, I learned that, among many other books, she contributed to a holiday book called Christmas Sunshine. Havergal’s rich poetry appears alongside Thackeray, Milton, Shakespeare and Dickens in a beautifully illustrated book, here.

 

Always interested in nature and children’s books, I have found a treasure trove of nature books written for children in the late 1800’s. My favorite is The Child’s Book of Nature by Worthington Hooker, MD, “intended to aid mothers and teachers in the training of children in the observation of nature.” I love that it was a high priority then–let’s reinstate it now!

One that is similar, but written for all ages, is The Beauties of Nature and the Wonders of the World We Live In by Sir John Lubbock in 1892. It is part science, part inspiration, and contains some lovely illustrations, like the one below.

.

 

 

One of my favorite fiction authors is Georgette Heyer, and thankfully she was a prolific author. I can find a lot of her books in paperback in bookstores, but for those that I haven’t run across, I can usually find them online. Among her always humorous regencies, Frederica (which I am currently reading) and The Black Moth are two of several Heyer novels loaded onto my Kindle and tablet.

 

The Practical Herbal Medicine Handbook , although admittedly not vintage or classic, is nevertheless another gem of a book I couldn’t resist including. I loaded it and several other natural healing books onto my Kindle, which I found on Amazon for free!

And here are some interesting websites to get you started as you explore the literary riches of the internet:

Gutenberg.org’s Top 100 eBooks as of Yesterday

Download 20 Popular High School Literature Books

The Library of Congress Classic Books

Classic eBooks by Female Writers

11 places for thrifty bookworms to download free e-books

Classic Children’s Books Now Digitized and Put Online

UCLA Children’s Book Collection at Archive.org

International Children’s Digital Library

 

Enjoy!  And please, share your favorites!

 

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

What a joy to know that this 1885 book is still current,

and still bringing the same wonder and delight to new generations of children–and adults!

                       Illustration for the poem “The Lamplighter”

 

A Child’s Garden of Verses is my VERY favorite children’s book

…as evidenced by the fact that I have 3 versions of it. It is the author’s imagination and remembrance of his own childhood that I love the most.  One of the introductions to his books says that Stevenson “writes as a child, rather than about children”. He was “able to enter into the heart of a boy” –and, I might add, also into the heart of this tomboy!

Robert Louis Stevenson grew up in Scotland. He wrote many other works besides poetry, including short stories, travel writings, plays and novels. Two of his best known novels are Treasure Island, a book the author wrote to keep his stepson amused during a very inclement summer; and Kidnapped, inspired by real events in Scottish history. It is said that Stevenson has never been out of fashion, and that there was an increased interest in him and his works in the 1980s.

The introductions in two of these versions are interesting, and endearing, and tell more about the author…

 

 

In elementary school, I learned several of the poems in this book, and I just realized that I can still recite one from memory. Some I memorized because they were an assignment from my teacher (remember memorizing poems and reciting them at an assembly?), others I probably remembered because the rhythm and rhyme held me spell bound and I couldn’t stop reading them over and over.

 

This first version is near and dear to my heart. It was the first book I bought, and may have been the first thing I ever bought with my own money.

We had a carnival at our elementary school and this was for sale for 75 cents. It never occurred to me before today, but…why would they have sold it? How could my school library have wanted to part with it? I hope it was because they were getting a new copy.

The inscription on this is my mom’s, recording the special event, “School carnival March 5, 1965.” When she wrote that, could she have imagined I’d be sharing it in the new millenium, in cyberspace for all the world to see?

 

 

“The Swing” and “Happy Thought” are my two favorites.

This next version I found about 5 years ago at a used book store in Denver, Colorado, while visiting my family. It is dated 1902 and has, of course, illustrations from that era which are quite different, very antique-looking.

 

I love that each of my copies has an inscription in them for the child receiving it! And I love knowing that it is still on the shelves of bookstores and libraries for more children to enjoy, and to receive as a gift.

 

 

I think “The Swing” is my favorite poem because I can feel the wind, the sunshine, and the FREEDOM…

 

This older version has a word list at the end.  Just look at all those “juicy” words (as we call them at my school)!!!

 

The last version I bought was at a thrift store in Calgary. It is the newest one I have.

I thumbed through it for a long time, but put it back on the shelf because I already had two of them at home. Then I changed my mind. I decided that this one’s illustrations were a glorious feast for the eyes on every page. No doubt it cost me just a little more than a current cup of coffee, and for the joy that it brings my heart it’s so worth it.

 

Again, here is my favorite poem “The Swing” in this version. Illustrations can sure make a book!  Look at the girl’s hair, and her shoe–brilliant!

 

I can hardly believe it took me so long to post about this book! But in my mind, it wasn’t a vintage book to be reviewed. It was one of my most treasured possessions.

 

 

It’s so sweet how Robert Louis Stevenson devoted many pages of this book–apparently written when he was in his mid-30s–to his beloved family, nanny and friends.

This lovely book is EVERYWHERE — as it should be!

May many more generations have the opportunity

to lose themselves in A Child’s Garden of Verses,

its fun, delight, wonder, imagery, peace… and its beauty.

Fellow vintage book readers

I just wanted to share some of my favorite websites for vintage books and reviews for all of you fellow vintage book afficionados!

Leaves and Pages

“Bibliovore. Botanist. Gardener. Armchair Traveller and Vintage Book Explorer”  And I would add: “Voracious Reader”!

A feast! On this blog I find excellent reviews of books published in every year from 1900 to present, and several amazing indexes on her website pages.

https://leavesandpages.com/2013/04/23/reviews-sylvester-or-the-wicked-uncle-the-grand-sophy-by-georgette-heyer/

https://leavesandpages.com/book-reviews-index/

https://leavesandpages.com/book-reviews-by-publishing-date/

Figments and Frames

I’ve been enjoying following this blog for quite a while.  The author of this blog is a writer based in Maine and New Jersey, and this is where she documents her growing antique book collection. She also covers a range of similar subjects, including life in frontier America, Native American interactions, early American and indigenous folklore, and all sorts of literature on food, from hunting and gathering to farming innovations and cookbooks. She says she can’t resist buying old illustrated children’s books and literary classics when she can find them. I can relate!

https://figmentsandframes.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/modern-tales-animal-stories/

Books Around the Table

This is my newest discovery, I’m just starting to mine the blog posts.

https://booksaroundthetable.wordpress.com/category/vintage-childrens-book-illustrations/?blogsub=confirmed#blog_subscription-3

The Art of Children’s Picture Books

This blog is archived and no longer active, but it is full of eye candy! Have a glance at these sweet images…

http://theartofchildrenspicturebooks.blogspot.com/2015/04/

And just for fun, check out this Reader’s Digest article, which reports that a first edition of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is worth $180,159!

https://www.rd.com/culture/rare-books-worth-a-fortune/

 

Such great stuff from awesome bloggers!

Canada’s National Indigenous Peoples Day – June 21

As part of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation work with its aboriginal peoples, we are celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day today!

In my area of Calgary there are events well worth attending at Fort Calgary and Canmore to honor our First Nations, Metis and Inuit people.

National Indigenous Peoples Day June 21

There are plenty of resources for teachers and children here:

The story of Claire and her Grandfather is designed to enhance young people’s awareness of some of the many contributions and inventions by Aboriginal people.  In addition to the text, there is also an online audio story.

 

Coloring pages abound!  …..like this one:

 

Here is more information on National Indigenous Peoples Day, and a video of making fry bread.

 

I’m proud of our country for this initiative!

Titus: A Comrade of the Cross – a classic novel for Easter

In 1894, a publisher held a writing competition to obtain the best manuscript that would inspire a child’s Christian faith. Florence Kingsley submitted her manuscript for Titus: A Comrade of the Cross and won the $1,000 award. In six weeks, 200,000 copies had been printed to meet demand.

The story is about a young boy named Titus, the son of a downtrodden mother and a poor, violent fisherman. His brother Stephen is remarkably kind, considering the fact that he was crippled from a beating by their father. Titus is cynical of what he hears about Jesus, and warns Stephen against any hope of healing.

This historical novel takes place at the time of the first Easter.

“Titus was listening with all his ears, but he said nothing, for he hoped that the man would speak further…. He could have slipped away in the dark easily enough, and was half-minded to do so.

Then he reflected that he might learn something more of his mysterious birth and parentage, if he stayed; besides, he had a strong curiosity to see the much-talked-of Barabbas; and underneath all, was an unconfessed desire to share in the exciting events which were soon to follow.”

 

Over thirty years ago, I was given a copy of this hardcover novel,. The cover was ragged, and as I skimmed the text I could tell that the language was ancient and confusing. It sat on my shelf for a long time because I had no interest in reading it, but I kept it out of affection for the person who gave it to me.

Finally, years later, I picked it up and started reading it, and couldn’t put it down. The language wasn’t a problem once I got used to it, and even though halfway through the book I found that a whole chunk of pages was missing, the suspenseful plot and true-to-life characters still mesmerized me.

I can honestly say that my faith grew tremendously from reading–and having “lived”–this story.

I was still reading it when my first son was born, and we gave him a middle name that was not the name of a relative, but of a character that touched me deeply in Titus: A Comrade of the Cross. 

 

Because Titus: Comrade of the Cross is so well-known and well-loved, this book is readily available to read online or by download, at such sites at archive.org and google books. Free audio of the book is offered at LibriVox. Hardcover copies are also easily available at various online bookstores, including Chapters-Indigo. Lamplighter.net features a great video blurb about it, and Bookworm Blessings has an excellent review and summary.

Although it was originally written for children and youth, I recommend this book for any age. Its longevity attests to its quality! The author wrote a total of 3 books in this “Comrades of the Cross” series, including Stephen: A Soldier of the Cross and The Cross Triumphant, as well as many other books.

Are you familiar with Florence M. Kingsley? Have you read any of her other books? Let me know if you have any favorites you’d like to recommend.  You can leave me a comment below. I always love hearing from you!

And I wish you a Happy Easter!

A German Christmas

Today my post is by a guest author, sharing first-hand memories of what Christmas was like for the children of Germany two generations ago.

 *  *  *  *  *  *  *

One of us always wanted to be the first to pull the 30th of November off the calendar, because Dec. 1 marked the beginning of the Christmas season.

The Advent calendar was taped on the window pane, the Advent wreath was hung around the kitchen lamp, the stores were suddenly full of wonder and magic and angel hair, and children began to write their Christmas lists.

Mama would say, “Remember, Sankt Nikolaus is keeping books on everything.” Every time she reminded me I tried very hard not to commit the slightest infraction of the rules and never say, or even think an unkind word. To my sister, the angel, that came natural, and the baby had no rules and couldn’t talk. To be quite honest though, I was always tempted to test Sankt Nikolaus’ omniscience – (or mother’s memory, which I suspected of being an able and willing informer). The only thing which kept me from being tagged incorrigible was the thought of Sankt Nikolaus’ fearsome companion, Krampus, who was known to lack understanding for temperaments such as mine.

I suppose the underlying idea which was being instilled in us was that “You can’t have what you wish for unless you earn it with virtue.”

Advent Calendar “Im Lande des Christkinds” (In the Land of the Christ Child)

On the evening of Dec. 6, (Sankt Nikolaus Day), the children in Germany eagerly await, or dread, the “hour of judgment.” Mothers prepare a festive table with Spekulatius and Pfeffernuesse (the traditional Christmas cookies) and lighted candles as a welcome for the honored visitors. Father is, for different reasons, always out until after “it’s over,” and wide eyed, fidgety children sit humbly on the living room floor. (But no matter how hard you try to look humble, you appear to be holding your breath and jump at the sound of the doorbell.)

Our Sankt Nikolaus was a tall, slender, awe inspiring, yet gentle, figure dressed in a white robe trimmed with gold braid. He wore a tall, pointed bishop’s hat set above kindly eyes and a resolute mouth made softer by the white, wavy beard. With a faint smile and soothing voice, he read from the list of nice and naughty things we had done, and he was surprisingly accurate.

“Well, I will see you all again next year, and I trust I will have nothing but good things to say. God bless.” He patted us gently on the head, winked at Mother and slowly disappeared into the hall.

Then suddenly Krampus appeared in the door. My little sister’s eyes widened, and she gripped my arm. And Krampus did look fearsome! Dressed in black from hood to boot, he carried a switch torn from a tree and a rope in one hand, and a sack flung over his shoulder in the other.

Without saying a word…his kind doesn’t talk…they just get physical…Krampus struck the floor with his switch as he aimed for my legs. At that point I thought I would faint. But then he turned on his heels and quickly left the room. How I wished Papa had been there to see such cruelty to helpless children! But fathers are always out of the room then because they have such important things to do.

Mother, who always had that twinkle in her eyes (a mixture of understanding and gentle reproach) looked at us and said, “Now, remember, you have time to make amends; so be good and keep praying for Christkindl to come.”

Every day until Christmas Eve was a new delight. Every morning we would politely take turns at opening a new window in the Advent calendar, would listen with both ears when Mama or Papa spoke, and were grateful for every encouraging note contained in the 24 little drawers of the Christmas House.

Frau Holly, the fairytale lady in the sky, was shaking her featherbeds and pillows just at a time when the layer of snow wore thin under the sleds, or the frozen leaves clung to the boots when we played in the nearby woods.

Frau Holly, you see, would shake the bedding so hard that the seams popped and all the feathers and down spilled out and made the sky white. We would catch the gaily dancing feathers and watch them melt in our hands.

And our little Bavarian town, surrounded by dark, dense, whispering pines, was the loveliest place on earth.

A day or two before Christmas, Papa would cut a fresh tree in the woods so tall that the star which adorned its tip would touch the ceiling. No one was allowed in the living room; all the hoping, the wondering, the preparing, was done in the family kitchen. At 6 o’clock on the dot, the traditional Christmas Eve dinner of baked fish was served. The magic hour of 7 o’clock seemed an eternity away.

With pounding hearts and flushed faces and deep faith in Christkindl, we’d wait for Papa to ring the bell from the living room. Then we would all rush to the door at once, and there, in the opposite corner of the room, stood the Christmas tree, decorated with white and silvery balls and angel hair, white candles lit to bathe the room in shimmering light, and Wunderkerzen throwing off sparks reflected in children’s eyes.

Lit candles and Wunderkerzen (sparklers) on the Christmas tree

As Papa passed out the presents, the excitement melted into a warm and sublime feeling of happiness and love.

And I quietly vowed, from that day forward, to always be good and kind and forgiving … just like Christkindl.

 *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Thanks Mom!  I can never hear this story too many times. I love you!

 

 Last summer, visiting my mother’s home town of Bayerisch Eisenstein, Germany, for the first time

For a first-hand telling of my own–rather humorous–childhood Christmases, showing the strong German traditions even while growing up in the U.S., you can read my article here.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoy hearing it. Merry Christmas! And may the Christ child, the Savior, Emmanuel, be with you always.

 

 

Photo credits:  The photo of St. Nikolaus and Krampus is courtesy of Terrie Schweitzer at Flickr, “St. Nicholas and Krampus”, https://www.flickr.com/photos/terriem/11285200115/.    The gorgeous advent calendar is courtesy of Richard Ernst Kepler [Public domain], https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Richard_Ernst_Kepler_-_Im_Lande_des_Christkinds.jpg.    The lovely winter scene is courtesy of MaxPixel CC0 Public Domain “Snow, Snowfall, Lantern, Lights, Light, Christmas, Mood” https://www.maxpixel.net/Christmas-Snow-Lights-Lantern-Light-Mood-Snowfall-1782614 .  The above black and white photos are from my mom’s scrapbook, and the last color photo is from my camera.