Capturing Christmas


Of all the gifts I enjoyed each Christmas, new books were among the best. Over the years, they changed: childhood’s Little Golden Books turning into The Bobbsey Twins, and then into Cherry Ames. In time, I began receiving ‘big girl books,’ and one of the first was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith.

It quickly became a favorite: so much so that the next year, during our annual read-aloud time on Christmas night, I chose one of the passages from the book as my selection. This year, I happened upon this fine reading by accident, and enjoyed it so much I thought it worth sharing here. Granted, the reading is nearly seven minutes long, but those seven minutes will be well spent. I hope you enjoy it, too.


Comments always are welcome.

55 thoughts on “Capturing Christmas

  1. I’ve seen the 1945 movie version directed by Elia Kazan but haven’t read the book. I don’t recall the scene you’ve featured being in the film. That’s not unusual: so much more fits in a novel than in even a long movie version of it. Details in the Wikipedia article about Betty Smith make clear that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is semi-autobiographical. The article also reveals that the character of Francie Nolan, her alter ego, first appeared in a play she wrote in the 1930s.

    1. I didn’t realize a film was based on the book. It makes sense, given the book’s popularity. It intrigued me to learn that it was one of the most popular Armed Services Edition books shipped without cost to American military personnel during World War II. Betty Smith said she received more fan mail from soldiers than from civilians: no doubt proof that the novel’s larger themes appealed across demographic lines.

  2. Thanks for posting this, Linda. It was very strange to hear a tale of a foul-mouthed Brooklyn tree-chucker recited in a plummy British accent by a man in a cocked hat but he did a great job.
    Here’s a random anecdote about that book. My father had a boyhood friend, who passed away very recently, an English professor, and an expert on musical theater. Even when they were teenagers in a small upstate village, listening to the Kinks, Rolling Stones, etc. Bob scoured the Woolworth’s discount bins for cast recordings, and bragged that he could sing, at least a few lines from any show anybody mentioned. And he actually could do it, until one day, a kid said “My dad said to sing something from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” and he was stumped (no pun intended). Turns out there was a 1951 show that I think closed after two weeks. It took Bob a very long time to track down a cast recording, or a copy of the score, but he managed it and no one remembers him being at a loss again after that.
    I hope you have a merry Xmas, Linda!

    1. That’s a fascinating tale, Rob. In the footnotes to the Wiki article about the book, there was a mention of the musical, as well as of the film that was based on the novel. I found the playbill, as well as a complete recording with the original cast. The internet really can be amazing. Now you can amaze your dad by singing one of the songs from the show when things quiet down after Christmas!

      You have to be experiencing some serious winter weather wherever you are, so stay safe and warm. Merry Christmas!

      1. Merry Xmas Linda — some travel problems due to weather so I won’t make it to my parents’ place for the 25th but we’ll celebrate our Christmas/Hanukkah/Yule when I get there, hope you have a wonderful Christmas!

    1. It’s a good one. I think you’d like it. There was program during WWII that sent free books to our soldiers, including this one. Betty Smith said she got more fan mail from the soldiers than from civilians. At first that surprised me, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought it made sense. It’s the sort of book that could have reminded a lot of very different people of home, in a variety of ways.

  3. Definitely worth nearly seven minutes of listening pleasure! I loved it – just as I love getting books as gifts. In fact, I suspect most of the presents our family will open this year will be an exchange of books!

    1. There’s nothing like a well-selected book to give years of pleasure, and there’s nothing like a well-written book to give pleasure generation after generation. An edition of this one was published in 2018 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics; clearly, its appeal hasn’t diminished. Merry Christmas, and happy reading!

    1. You’ll enjoy it: of that I am sure. This clip is well read, and that addes to the pleasure. Merry Christmas to you and yours ~ stay warm and safe in all that mess!

    1. Thanks, John. This tale of a Christmas tree is neither saccharine nor sentimental, and that’s a good part of why I love it. ‘Making a Christmas’ against all odds is a compelling story line.

  4. Wonderful memories for you. I still give my grown children books for Christmas.

    I am following your blog again. Hopefully, I will get emails for your posts. Thanks for the WordPress article. Challenges for the new year!

    1. They sure are. The best stories endure through time, even if they’re sometimes forgotten or buried under a rush of newer, cheaper tales. That’s one of the best Christmas gifts ever.

    1. Even the bullies don’t always get their way, and even the worst curmudgeon sometimes surprises himself. The story of the tree was a great chapter in a larger story; I’m glad the kids were able to dare the challenge — and win.

    1. Merry Christmas to you and yours, Andrew! I hope the season’s been enjoyable, and that you have time to enjoy some treats, some family time — and maybe even a new book or two!

  5. That is a great way to cap off our Christmas eve. Thank you for sharing! I too grew up around that sort of vocabulary (swearing) and came to the same conclusion years ago, although I was never able to put it into words like that. Mrs DM and I just listened to it together. G-nite! DM

    1. If I’ve learned anything working on the docks or listening in on the conversations of workers in various fields, it’s that the roughest sounding characters sometimes can turn out to be the most caring. They’re not obnoxious in the way that rap artists and celebrities often are; even though I can’t quite put my finger on the difference, I can feel it.

      I’m glad you and Mrs. DM had a chance to listen together, and I’m glad you enjoyed it. Merry Christmas to you and your brood! I hope you have a chance to gather together; what I’ve been seeing from central Iowa north into southern Minnesota looked fairly ghastly.

  6. The book was spoofed in a Bugs Bunny cartoon — Buggs was in New York City, cornered by a gang of stray dogs. He grabbed a book and raised it to throw — the dogs took one look at the book and all ran off barking merrily — the book was, of course, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.”

    1. Oddly — or not — that scene first reminded me of the tales of exorcists driving off demons by holding up a cross or a Bible. Of course, the dogs had something entirely other in mind! For them, the thought of a tree in Brooklyn must have been sheer delight!

    1. Books and reading were so important to my parents: partly because they only graduated from high school but were immensely curious about the world, and partly because when they were young their families couldn’t afford books. It always was fun finding something new for our ‘Christmas read.’ I’m glad you enjoyed this selection, Jet. Merry Christmas!

  7. I saved this until Christmas Day itself to listen. A perfect gift, and thank you so much. Just that short passage tells so much about human nature in all its variations, doesn’t it? As an aside, I ran across this quote today and thought it telling in another way:“Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.”
    G. K. Chesterton

    Merry Christmas, and best wishes for the year ahead.

    1. That’s one reason the passage appeals; it’s just so human. That’s a good quotation from Chesterton, too. He did love Christmas, and even though his Christmas poems can seem a little old-fashioned — even inaccessible — he was a wise man, who understood the season’s heart.

  8. Amazing what’s available on the internet, readings of the novel, analysis, the soundtrack from the show. I could be busy for days! Merry Christmas. The edge is finally coming off the subzero weather in my town. Hope all is well your way!

    1. I’m so, so glad that things are easing there weather-wise. Some of the footage I saw from around my old stomping grounds (Des Moines, etc.) was remarkable. I suppose if we’d seen our 1950s blizzards through the eyes of today’s technology, they would have seemed somewhat more awful. Our cold is going to break this week; we’ll not go below freezing tonight, but will stay in the 40s, and tomorrow will bring the mid-50s. There’s rejoicing in the land.

      For all that we gripe and moan about the perils of the internet, it does have its very good points. For example: those of us without fireplaces can at enjoy a bit of the ambiance.

    1. I think you’d really like the book. It’s been reprinted multiple times; I think the last edition was put out in 2018, so it’s clearly still appealing to people. It’s listed as a classic in some places, and that makes sense to me. Like Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift From the Sea, it’s filled with enduring wisdom as well as being a great story.

    1. I was pleased to find such a nice reading. It was good to find a video with superimposed text for those who might have difficulty hearing, but the reader was skilled enough that he was very easy to listen to. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I hope your Christmas was a happy one; all good wishes to you and yours for the coming year.

  9. I bought this book when I was in New York in 2011. It seemed appropriate. I loved reading it, and then lent it to someone, only to have it disappear forever.
    Our family always gives books at Christmas (amongst other gifts) and they always seem like perfect gifts to me. Happy festive season to you, Linda, from down under.

    1. What fun — that you’ve read the book. I did laugh at your copy going walkabout. I have a couple of favorite books that I’ve had to replace over the years, sometimes more than once, since I like to share books, too.

      Books are the perfect gift. This year, I received Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I’ve heard so many good things about it; now I’ll have the pleasure of reading it. I hope you have some bookish delights waiting for you, too.

      1. I don’t know the Robin Wall book, but I’ll look out for it. My most recent read is ‘Demon Copperhead’ a retelling of ‘David Copperfield’ by Barbara Kingsolver, set in Virginia during the opioid addiction crisis. Powerful and gripping. Not an easy read but definitely worth the effort.

  10. Oh, I enjoyed that passage you shared. I remember reading that book a long time ago. Seems like my childhood reading history is much like yours – from Little Golden Books to Bobbsey Twins with a few Nancy Drew mysteries thrown in. And yes, even Cherry Ames too. Receiving a book as a gift is a treat which is why I always give books to my granddaughters.

    1. I’ve never thought about it, but it is interesting that in a time without internet, Amazon, and Goodreads reviews, we all ended up reading similar books. Somehow they were getting marketed, and people were sharing them. I suppose librarians and teachers were primary sources for information; I still remember my 4th grade teacher reading from the Laura Engels Wilder books to us every afternoon for a half-hour. Great fun!

  11. My sister and I also got books each Christmas. I remember well the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew. Little Women, Rose in Bloom, Little Men, Little House on the Prairie . Thanks for reminding me of some of my favorite Christmas memories!

    1. Being able to creep off with a book once all the excitement of opening presents and sharing Christmas dinner was over was one of the best things ever. I’ve never heard of Rose in Bloom; somehow I missed that one by Alcott. Thanks for mentioning it!

    1. I’m certain you’d like it. You can dip into it here, and see if it holds your interest. I don’t like reading online, but I’ve found it’s a good way to see if I want to purchase a book, or get it at the library. There’s just nothing like a real book and a good cup of tea!

  12. I’ve not read the book and as a child saw the film but for a few moments so have little recollection of the story. I know it is considered a classic though. How special that your favorite passage is a YouTube video for you to enjoy. And also for us thanks to your sharing of it. Merry Christmas, so many days late, Linda!

    1. You’re not so late with your greetings, given that the Twelve Days only ended yesterday! I’ve learned that some people celebrate until February 2 — known as Candlemas. I’m not sure I’d be good for such a long time, but given the number of lighted homes still around, it looks like there are some who do celebrate. Either that, or they just like the pretty lights.

      1. Folks around here have a tendency to keep their lights lit for awhile, sometimes into February or later as in your neighborhood. And some never take them down. We don’t light the house (I’ve offered to do so but Mary Beth doesn’t want to see a larger electric bill) so we just have a reusable wreath on the front door through the end of January. Lots of decoration in the house though.

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