The Sunday Salon – Reading Traditions

I dressed the house yesterday, adorning my simple rooms with their traditional holiday finery. It’s comforting to think that the tradition of holiday decorating is one shared in Christian nations the world over, that people everywhere do as I did yesterday –  search through boxes and containers, pull out their cherished ornaments and figurines, light festive candles to illuminate dark corners of the room, and finally sit down with a sigh, relishing the way the ordinary has become transformed once again.

Like most of us, my thoughts at Christmas often drift back to my childhood, a time of wonderful memories, of excited anticipation about family gatherings,  favorite foods prepared only once each year, amazing displays of lights and greenery, glorious music, and of course, lots of presents.  I was a lucky little girl, and only now realize just how charmed an existence I led.

One of the strongest memories of Christmas’ past is a reading memory  ~I expect you’re not a bit surprised by that.  Back in the ’60’s,  crazy aluminum Christmas trees were all the fashion.  They looked like something out of the Jetson’s, with their skinny silvery stalks that blossomed into fringe filled flowers at the tips.  We covered ours in red and green ornaments, and then aimed an electric color wheel at the thing, so as the lighted wheel turned, the silver tree was bathed in a rotisserie of colors – orange, red, blue, green.

(I know, it sounds grotesque.  But it was 1964. What else can be said?)

The nice thing about that color wheel was that it made a very cool, glow-y light to read by.  And there was nothing I loved more in those days than to read by the light of the Christmas tree.  Every night after dinner, I grabbed my book and the pillow from my bed, settled myself stomach down on the floor, my head under the aluminum branches, the book spread open in the path of light from the color wheel.

And I would read, and read, and read.

At some point during Advent, I always read Little Women and Little Men.  I had my own copy of Little Women (this Grosset & Dunlap edition, and, oh, how I wished it had been saved! for I would read it again right this minute), but I borrowed Little Men from the school library each year.  I loved casting myself back in time, imaging what life was like for the March sisters, shedding fresh tears each year when Beth died, being amazed when Jo fell in love with her Professor and they started a school for boys together.

My other favorite Christmas book was a biography of Anna Pavlova, a ballerina from the Imperial Ballet in Russia during the early 20th century.  During that time, I was fascinated by ballet, and had started taking lessons (although I soon learned I was too pudgy and uncoordinated to ever succeed at this most graceful art.)  So I worshiped the dance via the printed page, and soaked up all the details of the ballerina’s life as I lay reading by the light of the color wheel.

Another non-surprising thing – I remember much more about those evenings reading by tree-light than about any of the brightly wrapped gifts I found underneath it. The power of books and stories is rich and everlasting, most especially when the time and place we experience them is steeped in tradition and the warm glow of happy memory.

Now tell me…Do you have Christmas reading traditions?  Do you have special bookish holiday memories?


 

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12 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon – Reading Traditions

  1. Becca, I love your wintery reading traditions. I seem to have NONE. It’s really quite insane because even though I have always been a voracious reader, I was a child raised without tradition. Thank you for sharing yours. 🙂

    And stay warm!

  2. What lovely memories, Becca. I don’t have any similar according to the season, but I do have fond memories of reading Little Men, especially, and then pretending that I was Jo and imagining Plumfield.

  3. Such a delightful story; I wonder how you had enough light to see by? Yet, as a child, I remember reading by the light from the hall shining into my bedroom as I was told to ‘turn out the lights!’ Something I did resentfully. It’s good to look back at the days of our childhood. I, too, recognize how blessed I was. Am. Continue to be.

    I’m up for a rereading of Little Women. I love that novel, as well as the edition you cherished. My edition was a very, very old one which had belonged to my mother and her sister. It’s now at my aunt’s house, and I have a sad replacement in paperback.

  4. What lovely memories! I don’t tend to be a rereader, although it’s a skill I’d like to cultivate as I can quite see how comforting it might be to read well known books over and over (I love to listen to familiar audio books, for instance, and prefer a film I’ve seen once to one I haven’t seen at all). But I do remember always asking for books at Christmas and often getting a really satisfying pile and just gloating over them for days and days.

  5. Ah yes, Little Women. It opens with the girls giving their breakfast away on Christmas morning. I don’t have a specific novel, but I do like Victorian literature at Christmas.

  6. An uncle of mine, the husband of my favorite aunt, had a great recording of someone (never knew who) reading A Christmas Carol. We listened at their house every December 23 when they had their annual party. After all the noise and fun, the lights would be dimmed, the fire stoked and the reading started as we all cuddled up to listen. Never a dry eye by the end. We are a sappy family. My favorite Christmas memory. Thanks for sharing your own lovely memories.

  7. Tonight I continue a childhood tradition, reading Christmas books aloud -no matter the age of the audience. There is something so sweet about picture books, especially Christmas picture books. Tonight I read two, even thought I said, “just one!!” My girls know this is a time of year that mom will read another book and then another and another. Especially if it is a tear jerker… they love it when I cry –I am so lucky!

    My mom gives my dad a new children’s picture book each year, she remembers. And I continue the tradition, reading and giving the best picture books no matter how old we are…

  8. I remember those trees! I always wanted one but we ended up with plain old green in our household. It’s funny because I am not remembering any specific memories of reading at Christmas time. I’m sure I must have read over the holidays but really I was reading all of the time so I just can’t think of a specific memory right now. I hope one will pop into my middle-aged brain now that you have tempted it!

  9. I always got books for Christmas and loved the luxurious choice of which one to read first when the breakfasting and unwrapping were done. (It’s great to have that choice these days, too.)

    Every year I re-read A Christmas Carol and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, two holiday stories that never get old. Having a recording is a fabulous idea! I might have to adopt that one.

  10. Although I write about a time when a child was happy to get an orange in his stocking for Christmas, I was smiling when I read your post because it made me remember a silver tree my family had. I’d never thought of it as a “Jetsons” tree, but you’re right.

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