I’m an old hand at Christmas. I’ve been celebrating the holiday as a Roman Catholic since I was born, after all. But even I found a lot to enjoy and learn from Caroline Kennedy’s 2007 book, A Family Christmas.
From the first selection, “We Need a Little Christmas,” Kennedy sets the tone for a bright, bouncy volume that crosses time, cultures, and even mediums such as prose, poetry, scripture, and song to explore the holiday season.
Certainly, it contains the expected. You will find the quotation from Luke, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” There is the famous letter from Virginia O’Hanlon to the editor of the New York Sun (“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”) as well as “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” by Clement Clark Moore (perhaps best known by its opening, “’Twas the night before Christmas”
But you will also find a Christmas story from Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov, of all people! Rap artists Run-D.M.C. contribute “Christmas in Hollis.” David Sedaris’s now-famed “Six to Eight Black Men” is included. But perhaps my favorite discovery is the new knowledge that the best way to pacify a Danish or Swedish elf is by an offering of rice pudding on Christmas Eve. And you’d better do it, too, if you don’t want the harvest to fail.
Sometimes we get so caught up in the holidays that it’s easy to lose our perspective – and our sense of humor – about what Christmas means. Reading A Family Christmas not only got me in the mood to celebrate, but it also gave me cause to laugh at the strange traditions we have invented over time. And it reminded me of the simpler ways we celebrated Christmas in the past. Although I know my son won’t be satisfied with a tin cup, a brown sugar cake, or an orange in his stocking, I know he will enjoy reading how Laura and Mary Ingalls celebrated the Christmas they almost didn’t get in an excerpt from Little House on the Prairie. Hopefully that will help him understand the true meaning of Christmas.