My favorite Christmas book – one I read every year – is Shepherds Abiding, a Mitford novel by Jan Karon.
The theme is familiar – what is really important about Christmas? Our favorite priest, Father Tim, brings about Christmas joy to all of those he meets throughout the season in the delightful town of Mitford. As for himself, he – who always considers himself a man of thought and not a man who works with his hands, takes on the challenge of bringing back to life a terribly neglected and badly damaged Nativity set to give to his wife for Christmas. There is a delightful “Gift of the Magi” twist to the story that I won’t give away. Shepherds Abiding gives dedicated readers a deeper look at some of the Mitford family. It also gives the reader a sense of what Christmas is like in a small town.
I read this novel every Christmas as part of my effort to remember what the holiday season is really all about.
Aware that I am prone to superlatives, I will nevertheless tell you that Sandra Dallas is one of my favorite authors. Part of the reason is that she lives in Denver, having graduated from one of my alma maters – the University of Denver. The main reason this is important to me is that many of her books take place in Colorado. I think it’s safe to say that most of her novels take place in the West or the Midwest, often during the 1800s. Think Willa Cather.
A Quilt for Christmas is, plain and simple, a wonderful story. Quilting is a somewhat common theme for Dallas’ novels, and while I’m not a quilter, I love the stories of pioneer women gathering together to collectively create something beautiful, sharing stories as their hands work.
While the book’s main character is Eliza Spooner, the real star of the show is the quilt she makes for her husband Will. The Spooner’s farm is in rural Kansas, and they are successful enough to eke out a satisfactory living as long as weather cooperates and they’re willing to work hard. Will has left to join the Kansas volunteers to fight with the Union in the Civil War. Eliza sends Will the quilt as a Christmas present to keep him warm as he fights in Virginia. Like many volunteers, Will doesn’t make it home, but through a circuitous route, the quilt does.
Eliza, who is a wonderful character – one of my favorite characters of all time – takes in a mother and child who have also lost their loved one in battle. The newly-formed and somewhat odd new “family” personify friendship and love and the real meaning of Christmas.
While the story takes a sad turn as Eliza learns early on about her beloved husband, A Quilt for Christmas is not a sad book. Rather, it is a joyous story, and I was sad when it ended. I learned through a bit of research that Dallas decided to make the characters in this book the grandmothers of the characters in one of her most well-known books, The Persian Pickle Club. I read that book eons ago, and am already prepared to reread it.
I heartily recommend this lovely book. It will leave you feeling good about humanity.
Here is a link to the book.