Writer: Monika Utnik-Strugala, illustrated by Ewa Poklewska-Koziello
Publishing House: NorthSouth Books
Date of Publication: September 14th 2021 (first published 2019)
Rating: 5 stars
‘’Can you imagine the winter without Christmas?It’s one of the most important and happiest Christian holidays – full of aromas, flavours, and unforgettable traditions.’’
As we are heading towards the last lap before Christmas, let us find ourselves on a beautiful journey, led by Monika Utnik-Strugala’s fascinating writing and Ewa Poklewska-Koziello’s mesmerizing illustrations. And, naturally, let us rejoice because we are a part of a beautiful world with exciting traditions regardless of colour, religion or social status.
We learn about Pastor Johann Hinrich Wichern who ran an orphanage in Hamburg and how he created the first Advent wreath to bring joy to the children. About the origins of the Christmas Tree and the transition from edible decorations to glass ornaments. Did you know the true meaning of stockings and snow globes? Or the Swedish Christmas goat, julbock and julstjarna, the popular Swedish paper stars that symbolize the Star of Bethlehem?
We learn about the importance of St Nickolas’ Dat and the beautiful festival of lights during the day of St Lucy in Sweden, one of the most enticing traditions. The celebratory Dancing in Church in Sevilla and La Noche de las Velitas in Colombia. Find out more about the illuminated boats that we Greeks used to decorate. Being a maritime nation with an exquisitely long naval heritage, the boats symbolised our close relationship with the sea and our longing for exploration. The Christmas Tree was introduced to us in 1833 during the reign of the Bavarian King Otto, following four centuries of existence under Ottoman Rule.
Well, there are always bells hanging over the fireplace to drive the kalikantzaroi away, at least…
Let us talk about the Nativity cribs. You have seen nothing until you have witnessed the miraculously beautiful miniatures of Bethlehem and the Nativity cribs in Italy. The Neapolitan cribs are pure magic. The cribs from the city of Krakow, known as szopki, resemble castles and churches with towers and gates that protect the Holy Infant. Now, think about the gifts that are so generously provided to us by Nature. Mistletoe. The sacred plant of the Celts, Frigg’s tears over Baldr’s death according to the tales of the Norse. Holly. The one that keeps evil elves away in Scotland. Poinsettia. The blood of a goddess whose heart was broken by unrequited love in Mexican Folklore. Pohutukawa. New Zealand’s Christmas Tree.
Raddish sculptures in Mexico. The Twelve Christmas dishes of Poland. The kourabiedes (a word which is almost certainly derived from the Turkish word kurabiye = biscuit) that are consumed with obsession in Greece. The Italian Panettone. The British Christmas Pudding. In Denmark, they break crockery. In Greece, we break pomegranates (Hello Persephone!)
Meet Jack Frost and Snegurochka. Krampus, the Jolasveinar, Befana and Agios Vasilis with his gifts. Experience the Nutcracker Ballet tradition for the millionth time in your lives and contemplate Dicken’s gift to our world in the story of Scrooge and the three ghosts.
Sing ALL THE CAROLS and you may possibly hear the animals speaking in human voices at midnight on Christmas Eve.
Because Christmas is a synonym for magic. We celebrate the miracle of Life, God’s gift to us in the face of His Only Son. Magic and miracles are in the air. And for a few days in the year, we can let ourselves participate in the wonderful hullabaloo of Christmas.
And always keep an extra place at the table for the loved ones who have left us…
‘’…just as the spring sun conquers the winter darkness, so Jesus brought humankind the hope of a better tomorrow.’’
Many thanks to NorthSouth Books Inc. and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.