How Six Found Christmas
Trina Schart Hyman ~ Little, Brown & Co, 1969
And so, the holidays begin. Over the next few weeks, I wouldn't expect Christmas every day, but you're probably gonna see a lot of it here. I have a huge stack of Christmas books I've collected over the last year, and I still haven't unpacked the mother load from the attic yet. When I started this whole thing, I had a small basket under the Christmas tree in which I kept my son's holiday titles. That way we could gather at certain moments of the day and sit under the twinkling lights and read a story or two. Now I'm wondering what sort of large bookshelf would fit underneath the branches without looking totally obnoxious.
That said, Ms. Hyman has always been sort of a mystery to me. There is something so masculine about her illustrations that I couldn't quite take them into heart fully as my own. They were almost too wonderful and lush and complex and frightening, even. Little Red Riding Hood. St. George and the Dragon. Snow White. These books are on our shelves, but I never felt drawn to her work until I discovered this little gem.Once upon a time there was a little girl who had never heard of Christmas and therefore did not know what it was. By chance one day she happened to meet an old wise woman who told her that there was such a thing. But the wise woman did not elaborate on the matter, so the little girl was left as ignorant as before, yet with great curiosity. Being a sensible child, she decided that the best way to find out what a Christmas was would be to go and find one, and have a look for herself.
So the girl heads out into the Great Snow Forest of the North to look for Christmas and along the way she meets five animals, each one as ignorant of the holiday as she. Each one asking a different series of questions about the thing she was seeking. The cat wonders how Christmas feels. Comfortable and warm or cold and sharp? The hound wonders how it smells. Delicious and comforting or ancient and frightening? A hawk asks what it looks like. Round and fuzzy or flat and clear? The fox, how it tastes, sweet or salty or sour or peppery? The mockingbird imagines how it sounds. Everyone is awash in confusion until the pack stumbles across a lost bottle in the snow and one by one all the animals deem it, in fact, to be Christmas. The moral of the story is revealed on the last page: Christmas is not only where you find it; it's what you make of it. That even an object as simple as a bottle can be a source of wonder.
Though she illustrated dozens and dozens and dozens of titles for other authors, Hyman only penned a handful herself. But within the simplicity of this story, it's easy to find the soul of an artist and perhaps Christmas along the way.
It wasn't until I read this ~ a little something she wrote about motherhood and art ~ that the final nail in the coffin of love was set...
“I’m a nest-maker. I have had this conversation with every woman artist I know: How do you do your work and your home and your children and your relationships? And we’ve all come to the conclusion that that’s why there aren’t more women artists; it’s why all the really big creative forces were men—because women are split; they’re just schizophrenic about [how] they’ve got to take care of home, children, meals, their husbands or lovers. How to put that all in perspective—how to slot your life—takes up a lot of energy that you could be putting into your work, should be putting into your work. We all feel it and we don’t know what to do about it.” I think Trina might be my new hero.