My Christmas Eve Reads: 2018

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Time for a re-post of my Christmas Eve reads entry from last year…

Christmas is filled with traditions. You know this even if you don’t celebrate the holiday. Here in the U.S. you can’t avoid the craziness of the nationwide offering to Mammon that is Black Friday and the entire shopping season during the run up to Christmas Day. The stores are filled with holiday items for sale the moment Halloween is over. And then there’s the Christmas music, because there’s always at least one person you know who wants to listen to nothing but Christmas music all day, every day, from Thanksgiving Halloween until Christmas day. There’s always one. If you do celebrate Christmas then add to that Christmas Eve services, family gatherings, Christmas dinner, office parties, gift exchanges, leaving cookies and milk for Santa, and opening gifts on Christmas morning. Traditions.

I have one particular tradition I enjoy as much, if not more than all the others. For the past ten Eleven years or so there have been two books I’ve read every Christmas Eve to my children. After we open Christmas Eve gifts (one gift per kid, another tradition for our family) we all gather together in our matching pajamas (cheesy I know), pile onto the couch by the fireplace, and as the kids snuggle up next to me I read…

How The Grinch Stole Christmas
By Dr. Seuss

I’ll be honest this is the fun book. One of the best known children’s Christmas stories by the most famous of all children’s authors. It’s the story of the Whos down in Who-ville and the Grinch who lives just north of the town; the Whos who love Christmas and the Grinch who does not. Dreading the certain festiveness that he knows will ensue the Grinch hatches a plan to keep Christmas from coming. He throws together a “Santy Claus” outfit, ties up his dog Max to a sleigh and heads down into town after everyone is abed. Then, sneaking down every chimney he steals Christmas from every Who household, robbing them of their stockings, and presents, their Christmas feasts and their trees, even the logs for their fires, leaving not even the smallest of crumbs for all the Whos mouses. Because there’s no way they can be merry and celebrate Christmas without all those things. But the Grinch discovers “a shocking surprise,” that Christmas perhaps means something a little bit more.

My memories of this story are primarily from the animated 1966 classic  narrated by Boris Karloff. I watched that cartoon film countless times at school and at home as a young boy and it remains one of my favorite holiday films. So when I grew older and started buying books when our children were born this was naturally one of the first purchases as December rolled around.

I can’t come close to matching the amazing voice of Boris Karloff, but I give it the old college try. From the opening page where…

“Every who
Down in Who-ville
Liked Christmas a lot…”

…To the final line…

“The Grinch carved the roast beast!”

…I give it my all; speeding up and slowing down the pace, tweaking my inflection and tone; raising my voice to describe all the, “NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!” and lowering it to a toddler’s squeak when Cindy-Lou Who begs, “Santy Clause, why, Why are you taking our Christmas tree? WHY?”

This book is a blast to read aloud and the kids love it, even though they are getting older. But I’d be lying if I told you it doesn’t cause a catch in my throat near the end when the Grinch comes to realize Christmas means something more. More than all the gifts, all the decorations, and all the food. There’s something much deeper and meaningful to this holiday. Even if you’re not religious there’s something more to Christmas than all the commercialism. Suess doesn’t come out and say directly what this something is and he doesn’t need to. Deep down we know. It’s a touching reminder told through children’s verse that connects us once again with the joy of the season we too often forget.

The Night Before Christmas
By Clement C. Moore
Illustrated By Niroot Puttapipat

This is a beautiful edition of Clement C. Moore’s classic Christmas poem with elegant silhouette illustrations on every page. Here are a few…

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and they culminate in a spectacular two page pop up display…

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Who (of us in the English speaking world at least) doesn’t know that memorable opening line,

“‘Twas the night before Christmas,
when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring,
not even a mouse;”

Indeed, once you read the poem you probably realize you know every word having heard it countless times throughout your life. People may argue about the best Christmas song, or the best Christmas movie and whether Die Hard even counts as one (the correct answer is YES it does), but The Night Before Christmas really is THE Christmas poem, hands down. I know some people out there will argue it’s about Santa and how he’s not “the reason for the season,” but that’s not my point. You know this poem and it’s probably a core association with the holiday. Let’s be honest for many American’s it’s one of the few poems they even recognize, it’s that foundational.

So every Christmas Eve I end my read to the kids with The Night Before Christmas next to a fireplace where the stockings are hung with care, while their excitement for the morrow builds. As they prepare to lay down in their beds with “visions of sugarplums” (or whatever candy they’ve secreted from the pantry) dancing in their heads they replay this classic story in their mind’s eye and wait in hopes of catching St. Nick and his eight tiny reindeer before they “dash away! Dash Away! Dash away all!”

Sure I’m laying that foundation for another generation and you know what, I’m just fine with that.

I hope this Christmas Eve finds you and yours doing well. I hope you are able to spend it engaged in whatever traditions you cherish most. If for whatever reason that isn’t possible I hope you can rest in the peaceful, joyful memory of happy seasons past. Or maybe…just maybe…this is the time for you to start a new Christmas tradition with those you hold dear. Whatever the case I want to wish a…

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

 

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