Christmas seems to have been always with us. It is that time of year when we expect good cheer and goodwill, a moment's respite from the year's vicissitudes, solace during difficult times," writes James Ballowe in his introduction to Christmas in Illinois. This book is about the holiday as remembered by Illinoisans. Some are widely familiar--John W. Allen, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sandra Cisneros, Mike Royko, Carl Sandburg, Joseph Smith--but most are known only in their close-knit communities that together represent the very best of the Prairie State.
We learn here about the customs of Christmas from Chicago to Cairo, Belleville to Danville, before statehood to the present day, through hard times and good. Tales, poems, news reports, memoirs, recipes, and images are arranged in sections on Christmas in Illinois history, living traditions, songs and symbols, Christmas outdoors, eating merrily, and memories. We see how bright an occasion Christmas has been, and sometimes amusing, raucous, or even dark.
The collection's highlights include Chicago's Christmas tree ship, Peoria's Santa Parade, Rockford's Julotta service, a Victorian holiday in Bloomington, and Audubon's 1810 Christmas on the Cache River. Nature writers detail holiday bird-watching expeditions along the North Shore and in deepest southern Illinois. A letter from a member of the 130th Illinois Infantry captures Christmas Day 1863, and Jack McReynolds recalls West Frankfort's 1951 Orient Number Two mine disaster that thereafter haunted the holiday for him and many others.
The holiday table is not neglected, with traditional recipes for wild game, pickled herring, and all manner of Christmas cookies. A wide array of illustrations includes images of Chicago's grand State Street parade, the Santa Lucia celebration at Bishop Hill, Belleville's Santa Claus House, Millikin University's Vespers tradition, the University of Illinois madrigal singers, Studs Terkel singing songs of good cheer, and the holiday art of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Heat up some cider, put a log on the fire, and curl up with Christmas in Illinois to share the holiday with friends both old and new.