By: Editorial Staff
Reviewed by: Liz Reed
Sweetwater Press/Cliff Road Books, 2007
Reading through An Alabama Christmas is like leafing through pages of an old photo album full of Brownie snapshots pasted on black pages and identified with fading white letters. Old black and white photos have an iconic quality, evoking memories of home and holidays, even if the pictures are not of your own family. One glance at children sitting on the floor in front of a Christmas tree or a snowman made using every last snowflake that fell on an Alabama yard and your own memories of holidays come flooding back.
An Alabama Christmas is a gift of memories written by people whose Christmases share common Alabama ground. These are not the stories of sleigh rides and ice-skating, except for a few, rare, snow-laced days that have graced Alabama Christmases in the last century. The folks who contributed these stories write of Christmas wishes granted (or not), of good times in the midst of economic depression and war, of lessons learned, of people remembered. Some of the details differ from place to place: one family put empty boxes under the tree instead of hanging stockings on the mantel (they were bigger and held more stuff); a storekeeper in Madison tossed live birds from the roof of his pharmacy to an eager audience of poor cotton farmers.
A few of the twenty stories included in An Alabama Christmas are written by well known Alabama writers such as Helen Keller, Truman Capote, Ruth Beaumont Cook, Jim Reed, and Sonny Brewer. Most of the stories, however, are the products of every-day Alabama folk who took pen to paper or put fingers to keys to share their favorite memories of Christmas holidays in Alabama. Polished prose or not, these first-person accounts reveal what is special about an Alabama Christmas to people of different ages and stages of life. Lynne L. Hall’s “The Doll” recounts an unwilling sacrifice, Sonny Brewer and Ruth Beaumont Cook write about their Christmas puppies, and Jim Reed writes of his Christmas mother and her loving attention to all things Christmassy. Of special interest to me were stories of holidays during the 1940s when World War II sent some soldiers home for grand reunions while other families received dreaded visits from military personnel. There are stories of Christmas on the plantation in true Gone-With-the-Wind style now so foreign and unfamiliar. And Kyle Strickland’s story of modern-day Christmases is filled with all-too-familiar hectic shopping forays to crowded malls where the spirit of the season gets lost in the shuffle.
Christmas in Alabama is pretty much the same as Christmas everywhere with memories of favorite foods and funny relatives, mix-ups, and mischief. Christmas in Alabama is also different from the most commonly projected images of snow and icicles and sleigh rides. For Alabama natives and transplants alike, An Alabama Christmas is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, remembering our own Christmas traditions.
Liz Reed, retired from the marketing research field, spends her days helping in her husband’s Birmingham bookstore, Reed Books, and painting. Her art is currently on display in Gadsden’s Mary G. Harden Community Art Center.