Excited for Christmas 2008

This whole business of being very pregnant this time of year has its pros and cons. I do get a kick (literally and figuratively) out of carrying a child through Advent; this season is about waiting and preparing for the birth of a baby. The spiritual, symbolic practices of this season are mirrored by the practical stuff we're up to. The cons... well, I'm still not glowing, and sustaining the pastoral energy required to do it up for Christmas at church ain't easy.

I'm enjoying the enjoyable - and making the best of the rest - of Christmas 2007. But today I had a quickening of another sort: genuine excitement for Christmas 2008, when we have a nearly-year-old around to at least start approximating a kid-centered Christmas. Naturally, it's the prospect of the books that really got me going. Elizabeth posted a photo-a-day of their stack of Christmas books, and it set me daydreaming about accruing our own stack of seasonal stories.

Here's a few of the treasures I found while procrastinating on my Christmas Eve sermon curating my daughter's future library:

The Nativity, illustrated by Julia Vivas

The words of the New Testament story of Jesus's birth are delivered with complete sobriety: Gabriel gives Mary the news that she will bear a child, she and Joseph go off to Bethlehem, shepherds and wealthy men pay homage to the child in the manger. But Gabriel wears unlaced, clumsy work boots and delivers his message over coffee or soup at Mary's kitchen table, and when there is no room at the inn, the rest of the town's visitors deck themselves out in a tree and snooze in stairwells. Vivas irreverently unravels the mystique of the famous birth, showing a bulgingly pregnant Mary and first glimpses of a child barely out of the womb. Also a part of this mad charm is an elegant mastery of form; wispy, glimmering watercolors show comic characters in the midst of grand events. (Publisher's Weekly)

Three Wise Women, written by Mary Hoffman and illustrated by Lynn Russell

A touch of girl power imbues Hoffman's magical tale of three women from vastly different lands and cultures who find themselves united by the glorious event of Jesus' birth. Each compelled to follow the intense light of a special star, the three wise women reach Bethlehem not bearing extravagant material gifts like those of their male counterparts, but gifts from the heart: freshly baked bread, a story, a kiss - gifts that will inspire Jesus throughout his life. The forceful and rich oil pastels provide a reverent yet mystical setting. (Publisher's Weekly)

Carol of the Brown King: Nativity Poems, written by Langston Hughes and illustrated by Ashley Bryan

Award-winning illustrator Ashley Bryan noticed that Langston Hughes had written five short children's poems about Christmas--and had translated a sixth "from a Puerto Rican Christmas card." Here Bryan collects and illustrates all six in a beautiful book that will bring out the meaning of the season for African American and other children alike. Bryan has a superb--and characteristically African--color sense, using a saturated palette of ochre, chocolate, russet, and yellow-orange, with a counterpoint of bright blues and greens. The pictures of parents, children, and kneeling Magi are an appropriately vivid, joyful evocation of Hughes's simple cadences: "Three Wise Men / One dark like me / Part of His / Nativity." "They did not travel in an airplane / They did not travel by car / They did not travel on a streamline train / They traveled on foot from afar / They traveled on foot from afar." (Amazon.com)

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