Well, as long as we are talking about Barbara Cooney (who, I am discovering, had quite the Christmas Book repertoire), I thought I’d like to bring to your attention her The Story of Christmas. Originally, she wrote and illustrated this book (though, I understand, it is very difficult to find her original). In the 90’s, HarperCollins decided to republish this, with illustrations by Loretta Krupinski, clearly indebted to Cooney’s style.
My first few readings of this book left me rather ambivalent. It tells in simple unadorned prose the story of the celbration of Christmas, through history. Starting with the actual birth of Christ, she also tells of the “pagan” mid-winter festivals, Saturnalia, the legend of St. Nicholas, and the Scandinavian Santa Lucia tradition, concluding with the quiet religious joy of Christmas Eve.
Her prose is not thrilling (I always thought she was more eloquent with her paintbrush than pen), but in the end, I appreciated her straightforward tone and obvious love of the season and its many, various traditions. Her presentation of these traditions are a lovely way to begin to talk about the history of the Feast of Christmas, and the different traditions that inform our celebration of it. An obvious believer, she always speaks with reverence toward Christ and his Birth, but also finds captivating the different rituals of the pagans that we brought into our celebration of Christmas (like the Yule log, evergreen mantles, and the lights representing both the sun and the Son).
Krupinski’s illustrations are very pretty compliments to the text. This isn’t a book you’ll want to curl up and read with a cup of cocoa by the light of the Christmas tree, but it is no less worthy for being an appreciative account of the traditions that have been carried on through the 2,000 years of celebrating the Birth of Christ.