A feast of Christmas books

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

This Christmas, I decided to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes, which is reading books. I decided to look for books on Christmas. My first discovery in this journey is that I could not find any meaningful book about Christmas written by Philippine authors. I find this unusual because the Philippines is reputed to be the country with the longest Christmas celebration from September to January.

There are a few classic Christmas books that should be read by anyone who has not yet read them.

The first is “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. Dickens’ book was written in 1843. This well-known story is about Ebenezer Scrooge and his four ghostly encounters which transformed him from a Scrooge who hated Christmas – note how the name “Scrooge” has become part of our vocabulary – to a more positive person.

Another classic is the book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss. This is not just a Christmas book, but a classic children’s book. The grumpy Grinch learns that “Christmas does not come from a store.” It is surprising that so many people have heard of the Grinch but have not actually read this book. Its lesson is as relevant now as it was in 1957 when it was written.

The “Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry remains one of my favorites since I first read it in my grade school days. Written in 1905, this classic tale is about Jim and Della, a young newly married couple without much money and each one trying to figure out what to get the other for the holiday. They make supreme sacrifices to afford their presents for each other. They learn the powerful lessons of Christmas about love and that the best gifts go beyond material things. I will not reveal the ending for those who have not yet read the book.

“The Christmas Train” by David Baldacci was written in 2001 and in 2017, was made into a Hallmark Christmas movie. This is the story of a journalist who must take a cross-country train ride from Washington DC to Los Angeles to be on time for a story opportunity. He is not thrilled about it but along the way, he meets different types of people and the lessons they teach him make this an unforgettable Christmas story.

The shortage of Filipino Christmas books has made me treasure the book “Blackmail and Bibingka” by Mia P. Manansala. She is a Fil-Am who writes about her native land. Published in 2022, the book features a Filipino family, a prodigal son, blackmail, attempted murder, poison amidst much mayhem. All these are written against a backdrop of Filipino food. A great feature of the book is that it contains recipes which the reader can cook to try Filipino cuisine.

The fact that her book has been included in a Reader’s Digest holiday reading list led me to be curious about Manansala. On her web page, she is described as a writer and book coach from Chicago who loves books, baking and bad-ass women. In addition, she employs “humor and murder to explore aspects of the Filipino diaspora, queerness and her millennial love for pop culture.”

Her debut novel, “Arsenic and Adobo,” was released in 2021 with Berkley/Penguin Random House and is the first title in the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery series. The sequel “Homicide and Halo-Halo” has also come out.

Manansala has been recognized for her writing. Among her awards are: the 2022 Anthony Award for Best First Novel, 2022 Macavity Award for Best First Novel, 2022 RUSA Reading List for Mystery, 2021 Agatha Award for Best First Novel, 2018 Hugh Holton Award, the 2018 Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award, the 2017 William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers, and the 2016 Mystery Writers of America/Helen McCloy Scholarship. She was shortlisted for the 2021 Goodreads Choice Award for Mystery/Thriller and the 2021 CHIRBY Award for Fiction by the Chicago Review of Books.

Reader’s Digest has a recommended list of 55 Christmas books. I have chosen a few I plan to read based on their reviews.

“Last Christmas in Paris” by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb written in 2017 is described as a must-read for historical fiction buffs. The book spans the four Christmases of World War I and jumps forward to 1968.  It tells the story of Evie and Thomas experiencing the tumult of war and their growing love for each other against the backdrop of the holidays.

“Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker” by Gregory Maguire is described: “Those who love the story of the Nutcracker should read this book.” Maguire reimagines the tale of the Nutcracker with a beautiful but dark back story that includes an anti-hero, lonely children, illness and death and found family. Although not a lighthearted holiday read, it is an ultimately hopeful story.

Just last week in time for this year’s Christmas, “Ang Pinakamahabang Pasko: The Philippine Christmas from A to Z” by Cyan Abad-Jugo with illustrations by Laarni de Leon (Milflores Publishing) was launched. The book lives up to its title with detailed explanations from aguinaldo to Advent to fruit cake to Kris Kringle to Misa de Gallo to Pasko to Santa Claus to the Santo Niño to zest and zeal. The child in the book asks at book’s end, with all the wonderful images associated with it, why can’t Christmas be every day?

May I take this opportunity to wish all my readers a merry and blessed Christmas.

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