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?