- Rebecca Purdy
Like most families, we have our favorite holiday traditions. We decorate our tree the weekend after Thanksgiving and, every year, my husband watches Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. When I was young, my father always read C. Clement Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas” to my brother and I. When my son was born, I couldn’t wait to uphold the tradition and searched for the just the right version that offered beautiful, detailed illustrations with a classic-looking Santa. I hope your family has a favorite holiday read aloud. If “The Night Before Christmas” isn’t for you here are a couple of other suggestions; of course there are many more possibilities to enjoy as well.
In 1939, scriptwriter Charles Tazewell was ordered by the studio to “write something” as a backup in case the current project fell through. The resulting script was forgotten until 1946 when “The Littlest Angel” was turned into a Christmas radio show narrated by Helen Hayes. When Tazewell died in 1972, the story had been made into a feature length film and was in its thirty-eighth printing. In this classic, The Littlest Angel arrives in heaven “many, many years ago as time is calculated by men.” Frightened as he faced the kindly Gatekeeper, he shed a tear and “having left home as usual without a handkerchief” tried to hide it by snuffing “a most unangelic sound.” Unnerved, the Gatekeeper blotted a page in his book for the first time ever. Things didn’t improve, the Littlest Angel just wasn’t fitting in. Finally he was sent to see the Understanding Angel. This kind angel listened to his concerns and asked what would make him most happy; the answer, a box he’d left under his bed. Once it was retrieved the Littlest Angel became the most happy among all the cherubs. When the Son of God was born, he wanted to give the perfect gift, but had only one thing, his beloved box full of memories. He offered it readily, but was then filled with shame at giving only a butterfly, some stones, and a sky-blue robin’s egg. Of course, he had nothing to fear, it was the perfect gift. The version illustrated with paintings by Paul Micich is gorgeous! The kindness of the Gatekeeper and the Understanding Angel are conveyed in their gentle smiles and twinkling eyes. One of my favorite pictures shows the Littlest Angel among the choir, each with a different expression. Some are horrified by his horrendous, off-key voice while others laugh and gleefully sing through his racket.
No one can make you want to snuggle with a porcupine like author and illustrator Jan Brett. Her animals are exquisitely realistic yet, still imbued with human characteristics. In “The Animals’ Santa,” Little Snow (the snowshoe rabbit) is doubtful that such a creature even exists. He questions the other forest animals and learns that no one’s ever seen him even though they can all recall the wonderful presents they received. As the debate continues Big Snowshoe begins to doubt as well. Unable to sleep, he comes up with a plan; tying delicate pieces of ice to tree branches. When the ice’s “silvery notes” begin to chime, the animals awaken, but there’s still no sign of their Santa. Suddenly, gifts begin to fall from the sky. Little Snow shrugs them off, “it’s only a bird,” but the majestic snowy owl with a basket of gifts around his neck hears, and turns back to exclaim, “Merry Christmas, little friends.” Finally Little Snow believes and whispers, “I know that you are truly, truly, true.”
Originally published in the 12/8/14 Free Lance-Star newspaper.