Thursday, December 16, 2010

and that's what christmas is all about

Until I was about fifteen years old, my family had a Christmas Eve ritual that featured reading out loud as the main event. The whole day was highly ritualized (luminaria, church, cookies for Santa, etc), but the annual reading was my favorite part. We would come home from church, turn the lights on on the tree, get into pajamas, and start reading.

We always began with Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and my little brother would read that one. We had an old copy, with pages that felt like fine sandpaper and a barely-erased pencil drawing that someone had once made in a fit of book-defacing glee. Then we moved on to The Polar Express, which my dad read. He always inflected the lines in the exact same way, but his version was never boring -- in fact, I can still hear the way in which he always said, "We were on our way home." (Aw. Nostalgia.)

After that, it was my turn, and I read Harvey Slumfenburger's Christmas Present. It's a totally endearing story of one Christmas Eve when Santa realizes, upon returning to the North Pole after a long night of present delivery, that he still has one gift left in his sack. That gift belongs to Harvey Slumfenburger, who lives at the top of the Roly-Poly Mountain, which is far, far away. The book chronicles Santa's journey to Harvey's home -- the reindeer are too tired to fly, so Santa has to find alternative means of transportation. Along the way, he is aided by all sorts of lovely people and gets up to all kinds of hijinks. (When I discovered that my beloved Booksmith doesn't currently carry this title, I was dismayed. Hint hint, Alie/Mark!)

My mom always wound up the reading with The Night Before Christmas. She, too, always read with the same inflections every year, and I'm never able to read the poem without hearing the way she recited it. Then it was off to pick out cookies to leave for Santa (we always left homemade ones that we had frosted earlier that day), and, perhaps foreshadowing the ardent bleeding-heart animal lover that I was to become, I always insisted on leaving carrots, too ("for the reindeer!").

Of course I associate Christmas Eve with cookies and milk, and lights on the Christmas tree, and presents the next morning, but I also will never be able to dissociate it from reading. If your own Christmas Eve ritual needs more oomph, more family-togetherness, try throwing in a book or two (or three, or four). I know that I sound hopelessly nostalgic and tied to the past (and yes, Zoe will probably accuse me of nerdiness -- again), but I can't imagine a better way to have wrapped up our family's Christmas Eve.

It sounds cheesy, and I'm sure that if my parents were to read this blog entry they would dissolve into fits of nostalgia and call me, in tears, immediately -- "I can't believe you remember how I used to read The Night Before Christmas!" -- but really, reading on Christmas Eve is one of the strongest traditions from my own childhood, and I wholly recommend it to anyone and everyone who celebrates Christmas (and Christmas Eve).

And if you need ideas for titles, Booksmith carries three out of four of the books mentioned here, and hopefully will be carrying the fourth shortly. :)

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