Review: "Grandpa’s Christmas: The Incredible Holy Supper of Christmas Eve" by Alvin Alexi Currier
There are a few beautiful Christmas stories that make me cry with joy for the beauty of the tale and the wonderful mystery of the Feast of the Nativity. Most of them are old, most of them are folktales. Here is a relatively recent one to be added to the list, a modern folktale published in 2016, written and beautifully illustrated by Alvin Alexi Currier. Grandpa’s Christmas: The Incredible Holy Supper of Christmas Eve is a 28-page picture book, told in verse. It looks like a children’s book, but like the folktales of old this story will speak to all ages starting from age six.
The book’s title, Grandpa’s Christmas, is somewhat ill-chosen. The story is told by a fictional grandfather, but it takes place during his childhood in the Eastern European Carpathian Mountains among the Carpatho-Rusyn people, Ruthenians in English. It is the story of a young boy experiencing a miracle when his family celebrates the traditional Holy Supper on Christmas Eve. The author explains in the foreword: “This story is rooted in a real story that I first heard forty-two years ago. I still cry when I read it.”
This book has special significance for our family because we are members of a Ruthenian Catholic Church. We celebrate the Holy Supper every year on Christmas Eve very much like the family in the book. After six weeks of fasting, beginning the day after the feast of St. Philip, the Apostle, on November 14, the Ruthenians celebrate Christmas Eve with a beautiful ritual meal of 12 dishes for the 12 apostles. The foods served are still fast foods, meat and dairy-free, but lovingly prepared, beautifully decorated and delicious – sugar is permitted. It is wonderful to read how a family celebrates the Holy Supper in the home country of our Church.
Grandpa’s Christmas is a definite read-aloud book. Written in free verse, the beauty of the language can only be fully savored when spoken. It is full of assonance, alliteration, occasional rhyme and vivid imagery. I find myself falling into a kind of rhythmic chant reminiscent of the chant of our Ruthenian liturgy.
The rhythm of the language and the simple evocative storytelling, along with the lovely folk art illustrations, quickly put the reader into the mood of a traditional folktale. I experienced a real shock when a Kodak camera appeared and a photograph was taken at the end. It had been mentioned in the beginning, but I had completely forgotten the story was set during World War I.
Grandpa’s Christmas bears powerful witness to the importance of the ethnic traditions in our Catholic Churches throughout the world. Currier tells how the foods, the songs and the rituals connect us to the worship of our ancestors and the natural world that shaped it. He also shows how these traditions bond our families. We are in danger of losing all this. In our fast-paced lives we often feel too exhausted to spend hours preparing foods and decorations, or to practice our special feast day carols and hymns. We are in danger of losing our roots! I often remember the words of Archimandrite Joseph Stanichar, hegumen (abbot) of our Ruthenian Catholic Monastery : “Keep the traditions. It’s where the love is.”
Note: Alvin Alexi Currier is a parishioner of an Orthodox Ruthenian Church. Sadly, the Ruthenian people are divided into Catholic and Orthodox parishes who worship and celebrate in the same way. Please pray for the unity of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
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