Thursday, December 21, 2006


The joy of holiday books

What with buying and wrapping gifts, preparing food for a friend's solstice pot-luck tonight, being struck with car trouble (and we're supposed to travel this weekend), arranging who-goes-where-when with multiple family groups for Christmas, and generally rush rush rushing, I haven't been feeling the spirit. Unless the spirit is a grumpy spirit. So this morning I took some quiet time when I opened the shop to sit and look through a few favorite Christmas books. Many people collect holiday-themed books, and I never meant to, but I ended up with a small shelf of favorites anyway. My middle name is Noël and this time of year has always felt special for that reason. Other reasons, too.

A few years ago at a library sale I picked up a copy of The Angel Tree: A Celebration by Linn Howard and Mary Jane Pool, photographs by Elliott Erwitt (Abrams 1993). I wasn't sure what it was as I put it in my tote bag that day, but when I got back to the shop and had time to look it over, I truly was enchanted. The book has biblical quotations throughout, and the stars of the book are the incredible photographs of the collection of eighteenth-century Neapolitan crèche figurines at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Every year the Met displays the figurines on and around a huge blue spruce tree. The heads of the figurines are made of sculpted terra cotta with polychrome, their bodies of carved wood, hemp, and wire, and they remain dressed in their original clothing. Many of my favorite figures are from the group of angels on the tree - they are individual and alive in the way that old Meissen porcelain figurines are, and they speak to me of the eighteenth century. They are the antithesis of the contemporary plastic versions available at the local cheap-mart. They are beautiful and they fuel my soul like old carols do. A detail from one of the photographs:

In a 1960s article about the acquisition of the collection, a director at the Met wrote that the angels were "...clad in swirling pastel draperies, their hair knotted by a mystical wind, their cheeks flustered by a sweet celestial emotion..." (p.73) Collector Loretta Hines Howard gave 150 of these figurines to the Met for its permanent collection and they are on display there right now. If I was in New York, I'd go see them! But at least I have the book. I'm feeling better. More about holiday books tomorrow.

That's a lovely photograph.... made me go out & buy the book! Thanks for sharing. My own personal favs include Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaardner and The High Rise Skittle Scat Uproarious Angel Food Cake by Nancy Willard. That last isn't really a Christmas story at all, but it is a beautiful book & for some reason, I get it out & look at it a lot during the Christmas season.
Kim, happy holidays and I hope you are pleased with the book, the photos are marvelous and the text at the end of book is fascinating - a lot about the history and preservation of the figurines, even some information about the artists who made them. Thanks for the recommendations. Like I need more books... If I sent my want list to Santa he'd go pale.
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