Tomorrow: my annual roundup of the best picture books of 2013!
In the first of 10 stories about Christmas in Tomie DePaola’s Christmas, Remembered, he tells us of the first Christmas he remembers: the Christmas of the miraculous fireplace. When he was three years old, miraculously, a fireplace appeared in their dining room, complete with a bright ever-burning log and a cardboard Christmas Village on the mantle:
A few days before Christmas Eve, a fireplace miraculously appeared in our small living/dining room. It stood against the wall where, the day before, a china cupboard had stood. …It’s no wonder Christmas became my favorite holiday. It was a time of miracles–fireplaces appearing so Santa could visit, Flossie’s famous Christmas village that all the neighbors came to see, and a glittering rotating “fire” in the fireplace that never seemed to consume the logs, although I can still remember the smell of “burning”.
“Miracles” mark all of these memories; for dePaola, miracles are part of everyday life, and no less powerful because they are created or sponsored by real people.
Each one of his stories is a delight and a treasure. He is as captivated as a boy by the fireplace, or a working in a candy store, as he is by hosting huge parties for his friends and family with individual Christmas trees. DePaola is an author bursting with character. But this is by far his most deeply personal book. His generous heart, and love for the (goodness, I hate this phrase) “true spirit of Christmas” is apparent on every page. He just has so much fun.
As a young man, dePaola spent a few years in a Benedictine Monastery, and describes his first Christmas there. He captures the sublime peace of the Christmas vigil during the “great silence.” He also tells how he prayed earnestly for bells for the monastery. His fellow brother was scandalized that he prayed for such things, rather than for vocations, etc. But, on Christmas Eve Day, bells arrived from a longtime benefactor who had seen them at an auction. God answers all sorts of prayers, and provides miracles through the work of our hands.
I happily re-read this book every Christmas. And, as the intro says, it really is a book “for all ages”–to be read aloud and treasured, and woven into the family traditions of your own home. And, who knows, maybe it will inspire you to adopt some of his Christmas traditions for your own.