Posted in Book Lovers Community

The Miracle of St. Nicholas

“Why can’t we celebrate Christmas tomorrow in St. Nicholas?”

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Set in a small Russian village, young Alexi asks his babushka (grandma) why they cannot celebrate Christmas in their village church of St. Nicholas. In the wake of the Bolshevik revolution, the communists vigorously worked to eradicate religion because it threatened the Russian people’s dependence on the State. In this story for children, the babushka doesn’t go into the political details, but merely explains that the government closed the churches and “all of the things inside disappeared.” This Christmas, however, there is no prohibition against worship so Alexi takes it upon himself to clean out the church and get it ready for Christmas Day mass. What Alexi does not know is that all of the villagers have a happy secret.

We cried through this book by Gloria Whelan: twice. A play on the loaves and fishes idea from the Gospel, the village does celebrate Christmas Day mass in St. Nicholas Church because God works a miracle through each little family in the village. Even the unmarried cobbler has a central role to play. This story is grippingly beautiful.

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Gorgeously illustrated by Judith Brown with egg tempera paints, the art is an homage to the Russian work of iconography.

This is not a story about the Bishop of Myra, St. Nicholas. If you are looking for a traditional account of the 4th century inspiration for Santa Claus, this will disappoint. If you are looking for a gorgeous Christmas story set in Russia, I emphatically recommend this one.

The traditional religion of the village of St. Nicholas is Russian Orthodox (a sibling church in the family of Catholic traditions). Although, there is not much detail about the actual religious practice, it is interesting and beautiful context.

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Posted in Book Lovers Community

Letters From Father Christmas

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Several years ago I discovered this beautiful book. Published posthumously by Christopher Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien never really meant these for public consumption. Written annually to his children in the guise of Father Christmas or Polar Bear, Tolkien regaled his children with tales from the North Pole and the challenges that old Father Christmas had in keeping his not so helpful polar bear in line. This book is absolutely enchanting and the audiobook narrated by Derek Jacobi is a real treat!

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Quintessential Tolkien, these letters are a mixture of Norse mythology, Christian legend, Catholic belief, and fatherly love. They delight us because they strike a chord within us about the true magic of a pure Christmas spirit. And, they are utterly personal. The warmth and teasing clearly communicate Tolkien’s paternal gratification in entertaining his children. The sophisticated language and mythological references seek to nurture the wild imaginations of his clan while also marrying the myths to the transcendentals of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

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One tiny word of caution: because these letters chronicle many years of Tolkien family Christmases, we see how the various children outgrow their belief in Santa Claus. There are small references throughout to the younger children about how the older children are no longer hanging out the stockings. If you practice the Santa myth in your home, and you have a child on the edge of disbelief, this may raise questions for them. If you do this as a family read aloud, those references can very easily be skipped over. If you do this as an audiobook, that is going to be unavoidable. That said, Tolkien is quite careful because, of course, he is still writing to Priscilla and Christopher who do still believe.

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I have the 2004 Harper Collins hardcover red edition from the Tolkien estate. I chose this printing because it matches my Alan Lee illustrated Hobbit and my Lord of the Rings volumes from the Tolkien estate. Letters From Father Christmas is exactly the same size as my Alan Lee Hobbit: approximately  9 7/8″ tall by 7 3/4″ wide. It is the same height as the Lord of the Rings, but about 3/4″ wider. The full color illustration is extravagantly poured onto almost every page. At time of publication, this edition is expensive on Amazon. I purchased mine used and it shipped from the UK.

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It is my understanding that the beautiful version I have does not contain all of the letters. If you are a purist and want all of the letters, you may want to consider this version which is 50 pages longer than my edition.

For several years I have stalked Amazon and Audible looking for a digital copy of the Derek Jacobi audiobook to purchase. While Audible UK had it for sale, it was not available for sale in the US. I even opened an Audible UK account to try to purchase this audiobook (and other Tolkien books like Roverandom, Mr. Bliss, Leaf By Niggle, etc.) but was unable to check out because I had a US mailing address. I was tickled pink yesterday when I saw them appear in Audible US for sale!

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