When my children were younger, I read to them almost every night and I bought them books for birthdays, holidays, and as souvenirs when we traveled. In December 1996, my planning included buying Christmas gifts for my family and thoughts about ways to encourage my daughter in her upcoming role as a big sister. At the time, I was pregnant with my son who was due just before Christmas Day. In an attempt to get advice on how to better transition from a family of three to a family of four, I enrolled us in a sibling class at the local hospital.
The course instructor taught short lessons on the developmental needs of children. She took us into a hospital room so that the kids could see and touch the beds. The kids were also allowed to experiment with the controls for the beds and to ask questions about the other things in the hospital birthing room. Near the end of the course, the instructor read a book to the class about child birth (and that is a subject for a different blog post). During the course, the instructor stressed the importance of placing value in the role of the older sibling(s). She encouraged us to assign our older child tasks associated with preparing the home for the arrival of the baby. Then, we were told to think of small, inexpensive tokens to gift the older sibling as a thank you for the thoughtful acts of kindness shown by them toward the little brother or sister whose birth we anticipated. Among the things I picked was a book called “’Twas the Night B’fore Christmas An African-American Version Retold and Illustrated by Melodye Rosales.”
I remembered mama reading to me the “the original poem” upon which this book was based: “A Visit From St. Nicholas by Clement C. Moore.” However, I could not remember any illustrations associated with the poem. The cover of this version by Melodye Rosales drew me to the bookshelf. Once I opened the book and flipped through the pages, I was sold. I knew that I had to take it home and use it to create a family tradition centered around this version of a classic children’s tale. Beginning in 1996, I read this book to my children Christmas eve just before bedtime. The book became a part of the Christmas eve tradition that included getting all cleaned up to put on the new pajamas I selected for them. The crisp pajamas were necessary so that the Christmas morning pictures would be perfect. After getting the kids suited for bed, I made them hot chocolate, we plated the cookies for Santa, and poured him a glass of milk to compliment the cookies.
The aroma of the cookies and the twinkling lights made for a perfect environment for us to take in the wonder of this book. The kids looked forward to this tradition as much as I did and that made me happy. Once they were dressed for bedtime and the hot chocolate was cool enough to drink, we positioned ourselves shoulder to shoulder so that we could all see the pages of the book at the same time. The first picture in the book depicted a period reminiscent of the time when my mother was a child. The children left a note addressed to “Santy Claus” and a gift of “huckleberry jam” on a table in a room lit by a lantern and the moonlight. The next few pages were filled with color and detail that brought to life the spirits of the family who lived in the house. The children with their smooth, caramel toned complexions were sweet perfection. At the start of the book, all of the children were asleep except the youngest girl who laid in bed on her back dreaming with her eyes open about the anticipation of the visit of “Santy Claus.” The children dreamed of dancing treats and toys while the parents slipped into a restful sleep.
When I was a child, mama told me that Santa did not appear if the children in the house were awake so I made sure that I went to sleep as a reasonable time Christmas eve. I guess “Santy Claus” didn’t realize the little girl was awake in the book because she was harbored from detection by the sounds of the grown ups sleeping on either side of her. Based on the dad’s reaction to the sound of “a clatter” in “the darkness” I believe he loved Christmas as much as I did. I also thought he must have been a light sleeper because he sprung from the bed with the little girl and raced to the window looking for the source of the noise. The facial expressions of the girl and her dad were priceless and if “Santy Claus” saw them he must have continued his gift giving mission at the house for the mutual entertainment value. The bounce and lyrical rhyming of the verses made us feel like we were actually sneaking a peak into the secret world of St. Nick. We saw the jolly old man drop from the chimney into the living room with his bag of goodies. It’s funny how the author and illustrator made us accept the tale as told by this family. We, too, vicariously witnessed the reindeer pulling his sleigh as he “a-hollered, an’ called them by name: ‘Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer an’ Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donner an’ Blitzen!…’”
Every time I read this book, I am reminded about the stories my mother told me about her childhood. She told me how she grew up on a farm with her siblings and her parents and they looked forward to getting gifts of fruits and nuts for Christmas. Mama said they often made their own dolls for fun because they didn’t expect to receive one from a store. In addition to thinking about the simplicity of mama’s childhood Christmas experiences, I think about how much the blankets covering the family in the book resemble the quilts made by the women in my mom’s family. There were some really pretty, colorful quilts handed down in my family over the years. I loved reading to my kids because the story lines always presented excellent opportunities to share stories about our family history and the world around them. I hope that those who read this blog post will make it their mission to read and share this book with the children they know.
Merry Christmas from my family to yours!