Home for Christmas: Stories for Young and Old (2002), from Plough Publishing, is a collection of twenty European and American Christmas tales with woodcut illustrations. Five stories came from Plough’s Behold that Star: A Christmas Anthology (1966). Some authors were familiar to me: Pearl Buck, Selma Lagerlof, Madeleine L’Engle, Katherine Paterson, and Henry van Dyke. So were two stories: “Christmas Day in the Morning” (Buck) and “The Other Wise Man” (van Dyke). I hadn’t read Arthur Gordon’s “The Miraculous Staircase” before, but I knew the story – the building of a free-standing circular staircase in a Santa Fe church – fairly well.
Compiler Miriam LeBlanc’s attempt to select stories “for their literary quality and their spiritual integrity” was admirable, but I don’t think she – and Plough – succeeded. I enjoyed stories like “No Room in the Inn” (Paterson) and “A Certain Small Shepherd,” which cleverly retold the Christmas story in modern times. I also enjoyed “The Riders of St. Nicholas” and “The Vexation of Barney Hatch,” which showed cynical men helping others on Christmas Eve at the expense of personal comfort, even if in the name of Santa Claus. “Three Young Kings” and “What the Kings Brought,” a true story set in modern Spain, were similar – people young and old helping poor children. These stories and “The Christmas Lie” were also rich in local color.
However, I strongly disliked the Roman Catholic tales. Their “literary quality” was superb but their “spiritual integrity” questionable, since darkness and light don’t mix. In “The Cribmaker’s Trip to Heaven,” Peter tells a proud cribmaker at heaven’s gate that he needs a human advocate to speak for him, whom he must “gain … through a work of mercy.” Yet Jesus Christ the Advocate never crosses Peter’s lips. This is heresy! The Christ child appears in “The Chess Player” and “Grandfather’s Stories.” In the latter story, set in Russia, a wooden statue of Mary and baby Jesus bleeds. This is witchcraft! “Brother Robber” and “The Christmas Rose” (Lagerlof) describe monks helping robbers. They never mention repentance and those who insist on divine justice against sin are portrayed as sinners themselves. This is nonsense! I could have done without silly legends on Jesus Christ’s birth too, like “The Empty Cup.”
Other than the Catholic-inspired tales, this is a nice Christmas book with beautiful black-and-white woodcut illustrations. But I sorely missed author introductions. It’s nice to know who people are outside titles and plots. When, where, and why did they write? This book didn’t answer that question, so I’ll have to go online to find out.
[I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.]