For the inhabitants of the Great Plains, the month of December is thirty-one days of progressively receding sunlight, unremittingly low temperatures, and the ever-present threat—if not the reality—of knee-high snow. Arriving at the peak of this blustery weather, Christmas is extended as far as possible on both sides of December 25. On the Great Plains, December needs a Christmas season, not just a single day.
Featuring stories and essays by both classic and contemporary regional authors, including Willa Cather, Hamlin Garland, Paul Engle, Constance Vogel, and Ted Kooser, Christmas on the Great Plains offers unique geographic, historical, and cultural perspectives on winter’s holiday celebrations and traditions—from lutefisk and julebukking to sleighbells and twinkling lights—that will be appreciated by anyone who has braved the wintry plains.
The stories in this collection unwrap like so many holiday packages, revealing a varied assortment of gifts. Moments of communal beauty and happiness are common, as in Mary Swander’s “The Living Crèche,” where her friends reenact the nativity scene at Fairview School, or in Mari Sandoz’s “The Christmas of the Phonograph Records,” where isolated homesteaders travel far to hear the sounds of their first phonograph. Yet as we all know, the reality of the season is not always magical. One person’s Christmas joy is countered by another’s annual depression, the latter reinforced by the bleak landscape of this harsh climate. As Jane Smiley says in “Long Distance,” a story about a disconnected man spending the holidays with a family whom he has not seen in years, “though he cannot bear to stay here after all, he cannot bear to go either.”
A thought-provoking and inspiring antidote to the dark and icy days of December, Christmas on the Great Plains is a welcome reminder of the many connections we make with each other and the landscape during the Yuletide season.
“A cornucopia of Christmas reminiscences from the far and recent past, this is warm nostalgia from the best storytellers in the Midwest. From the remarkably observed ‘The Christmas of the Phonograph Records,’ to the stark survivalism of ‘December,’ the reader will be utterly drawn into the unique times and places of Christmas on the Great Plains.”—Carrie Young and Felicia Young, co-authors, Prairie Cooks: Glorified Rice, Three-Day Buns, and Other Reminiscences