December 24, 2013

The Night Before Christmas: A Story Of Two Books

I love books. The fact that I write my own blog solely about books should make that fairly obvious. I'm the kind of person that wonders how I came to love books so much, which touches on the nature vs nurture debate: was I born someone who was always going to love reading, or was it something that I picked up as I grew? Honestly, I'm inclined to say it was a bit of both.

But this post is a story of nurturing, in every sense of the word.

A Christmas Eve Tradition

When my sister and I were children, for as long as I can remember our family's routine on Christmas Eve was always the same.

First, we'd travel into Toronto to our grandparents' house, where we'd gather with our relatives from my mother's side of the family and do our Secret Santa stocking exchange. Everyone would get two presents for one other person in the family, and write poems describing what each gift was. We'd have some appetizers and munchies, with my favourite being grandma's egg salad sandwiches. After the presents were opened, we'd either go to a Swiss Chalet or order it in to their home. Then we would go to their local church for a quick sermon. I'm not religious, but I still love going to them. Partly because the people who have run those sermons always preach simple things that can be admired regardless of religious affiliation (peace and love, giving and joy, etc), and partly because of the sense of tradition and the spirit of Christmas. In fact, the more I worked in retail the more I came to appreciate that sense, rather than the commercialization that saps my ability to enjoy the spirit of the holiday. 

Once all of that was over we would head home for our final two traditions. First, my mother would hand out a new set of pajamas, and then we'd sit around the Christmas tree and read two books, aloud and together.

A Wish For Wings That Work

The book we always read first is called A Wish For Wings That Work by Berkeley Breathed. It's about a penguin who always wished he could fly and writes a letter to Santa for a new pair of wings that will enable him to fly. Of course, in the end, he winds up having to help Santa by doing what penguins do best, and he truly "flies" with the wings he already had.

Basically, we'd take turns reading a page or two, show everyone the pictures, then pass it on to the next person. In truth, we loved the pictures as much if not more than the writing. There was one of Opus, the penguin, sitting on one shoulder of a cast-metal statue, offering a pickle to some pigeons who bristled away from him; there was another of Opus "flying" through the water, trying to save Santa and his sleigh from sinking, with a sheet of spray trailing behind him, and frogs and catfish leaping out of his path; the last one we always loved was of Opus shaking hands with Santa at the end, clutching his soggy red bow tie as he dripped from the water, looking tired but proud. Whoever the artist was, and I can't find it mentioned on Goodreads, deserves an award.

That's not to say the writing wasn't good, because it had some memorable phrases and rhythmic sentences that proved very catchy and giggle-worthy to us as kids. "Catastrophe! Calamity! A considerable setback!" is the one we all still smile and laugh at.

The Night Before Christmas

Because that wasn't obvious, eh?

Yup, the book we'd finish off with was the classic: The Night Before Christmas by... someone. We would do the same thing as with the previous book, reading a couple of paragraphs and passing it to the next person. A shorter book, with art that didn't appeal to us nearly as much as adorable and silly penguins and snow ducks, it was a quicker read than A Wish For Wings That Work. The artwork was much more "classic children's picture book" in its style, which was certainly well done but didn't have the same charm. What it did have is the rhythm of the poem's verse, and the wording that was always difficult to remember but was so beautifully written it was always a pleasant surprise to hear.

Can I say for certain that this Christmas tradition that I had with my family helped create a foundation of my future love of books? I cannot, but it certainly didn't hurt. 

Merry Christmas everybody!

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