12 Vintage Holiday Books

02 Nov 2022

In recent years the Icelandic custom of “Jolabokaflod” – translated: Christmas Book Flood – has gained popularity in the United States. It is a charming and lovely idea: on Christmas Eve one gives – and receives – books and then snuggles up to read for the remainder of the long, cold evening. To a bibliophile, what could possibly be a better way to celebrate the holidays? Below are 12 ideas for 12 days of holiday reading celebration.

A Die Hard Christmas: The Illustrated Holiday Classic by Doogie Horner, Illustrated by JJ Harrison, 2017
The “Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” debate rings through many a household. Some people insist that it is. Others refuse to concede. Horner has put together a lovely retelling of the story – in verse no less! The perfect gift for the Die Hard fan in your life who has everything.

The Nutcracker and The Mouse King by E. T. A Hoffmann, 1816.  
The novellea that inspired the classic holiday ballet is a surprising and beautiful story. Inspired is the keyword here – the ballet has taken on a life of its own, with many changes to characters and relationships as the ballet continues to evolve. The holiday novella has a rich, complex, story led by a brave young girl who sets out to help those who need her.

The Old Magic of Christmas: Yuletide Traditions for the Darkest Days of the Year by Linda Raedisch, 2013
Readisch has put together a fascinating compendium of the folklore that forms the modern iconography of the holiday season. What is the connection with elves? Krampus, made popular again with a recent holiday horror film, features in a chapter of his origins and those of his brother spirits; as do Lucia, The Yule Lads and those curious Reindeer. In addition to the wonderful tales, each chapter includes crafts and recipes for incorporating the older traditions into a modern home.

A Visit From St. Nicholas (‘Twas The Night Before Christmas) by Clement C. Moore, 1823/1837 and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 1843
Two books that no traditional holiday list would be complete without are A Visit From St. Nicholas (‘Twas The Night Before Christmas) and A Christmas Carol. Together these two family stories are responsible for creating the modern idea of the holiday season. Moore’s poem remains the description of St. Nick (Santa Claus) with a flying sleigh of named reindeer that most of us still know and love today.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is set during the industrialization of England. It painted a picture of a man who had accomplished everything that the new world admired: success in business at the expense and exploitation of others. But his life was empty and through the intervention of the spirit world he transformed into a person who lived the teachings of Christ: to put his fellow man’s well-being and needs above his own. The five “staves” that are the framework of the book make a wonderful Advent read: one stave each week culminating with the final stave on Christmas Eve.

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris, 1997
For the slightly more holiday challenged, or perhaps holiday curmudgeon, David Sedaris has the answer. Sedaris grew up in Raleigh, and owns a home at Emerald Isle. He rocketed to stardom when “Santaland Diaries,” his essay about working as an elf at Macy’s Santaland appeared on NPR. The essay inspired the stage adaptation by Joe Mantello. An annual production of the stage show was a local holiday tradition for almost two decades. This collection of short holiday-themed pieces includes the essay and can be digested in one sitting, or stretched out over successive nights, preferably with a drink in hand.

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett, 1998
British humorous fantasy author, Terry Pratchett, is perhaps most well-known for creating “Discworld” : a satire of Earth that would make Jonathan Swift envious. In Discworld, someone has kidnapped The Hogfather (the Discworld equivalent of Santa Claus), with intent to kill. To keep the balance of the universe intact, and preserve some hope of getting him back, Death (a seven-foot-tall skeleton with glowing blue eyes) and his not very cute henchman turned “elf”, Albert, take on the role for the night of delivering gifts and keeping holiday promises. Can they save the holiday season for mortals? Can The Hogfather be found? And what is the true spirit of the holiday season really about? These questions and more plague them on their delicate mission across time and space which reminds the reader about the power of belief.

Moo, Baa, Fa La La La la!  by Sandra Boynton, 2022
I am an unabashed fan of artist and poet Sandra Boynton. She has a lovely relationship with puns and her art is charming. My neighbors regularly receive her sweet board books as Holiday gifts. I like them because they are fun, not overtly religious, and instead celebrate the joy of getting together. This year Boynton has just released a new one: Moo, Baa, Fa La La La La! Which is ‘Deck The Halls’ but with delightful cast of holiday oriented animals.

Sir Gawain & The Green Knight, retold in modern prose by Jessie L. Weston
Due to the success of the recent film, this story has gotten a lot of publicity in the last few years. I enjoyed the film tremendously, however it differs greatly from the poem/tale. We begin the story with Christmas at Camelot, when a mysterious and unexpected visitor arrives. There have been many translations of The Green Knight into modern verse/prose. J. R. R. Tolkien’s translation is very popular. Personally, I prefer Jessie L. Weston’s translation, currently available from Dover books. It has both verse and a modern prose version of the tale in the same volume.

Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah by Susan L. Roth, 2004
There are many, many books about Hanukkah available, but I like this one for several reasons. The text is the lyrics of a song that we have sung as children. It focuses on what I loved and enjoyed the most about the holiday: time set aside with my mother to light the candles, to make latkes (potato pancakes) for Hanukkah dinner, and the memories we created and shared as a family. The art is enchanting – Roth really is quite talented. In a few short pages she really brings to life the warmth and light of family during the dark days of winter.

The Gift of Christmas Past: A Return to Victorian Traditions by Sunny O’Neil, 1981
Seek out a vintage copy of this book that captures the elegance and décor of the Victorian period that still fascinates today. Our idea of Christmas celebrations and decorations really date from that period: images of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s holiday celebrations were heavily marketed and influenced the popular imagination. O’Neil has put together a guide to re-creating many aspects of a Victorian Christmas from decorations and food to gifts and crafts. She scoured pages of magazines from the time including Ladies’ Home Journal and Godey’s Lady’s Book for authentic and accurate information. Even if you don’t attempt any of the projects, the illustrations alone are worth the time spent with the book.

Magic Tree House: Christmas in Camelot by Mary Pope Osborne, 2001
Jack and Annie, the time traveling stars of The Magic Tree House mystery series for young readers, are summoned to Camelot to save the kingdom at the holidays. Relying on the power of research and reasoning, the dynamic duo once again use learning to triumph and to prove that books combined with imagination are a powerful form of magic.

Gwenyfar Rohler is the owner of the independent bookstore, Old Books on Front Street, in Wilmington.

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