Disclaimer: ARC read courtesy of Osprey via Netgalley. The ARC included some illustrations but not all of them, so no comments on illustrations.
Okay, raise your hand if you still watch all those Rankin and Bass Christmas specials! Now, I’m not just talking about everyone’s favorite red nosed reindeer, but the others – Nestor the Long Eared Donkey, A Year Without Santa Claus, Here Comes Santa Claus – you know all those what are the only way people of a certain are introduced to or either know Mickey Rooney or Fred Astaire.
Yep, me too.
Now, raise your hand if you know who Black Pete or Krampus are? See, fewer hands. Don’t feel so bad, I hadn’t heard of Black Pete until last year, and Krampus I didn’t know about until years after I stopped believing in flying reindeer – which are all female by the way. Not only do they not get lost, but look they have antlers.
This slim volume is designed for children but is packed full of facts and sources that the average person might not know. The conceit is that since Santa Claus is too busy to write it himself, the author has stepped into to fill a void. And it works.
McCullough starts with the historical evidence and religious stories about St. Nicolas. And you would be surprised how much of those Rankin and Bass specials hit the mark. He then moves into the adapting and changing of the story during the rise of Protestantism, its introduction to the United States, and other changes. Twas the Night Before Christmas and Virginia’s famous letter are both reprinted in their entirely. The more religious stories are too long to be quoted in entirely, but McCullough does them justice and does not have a “convert now or die” spiel going. It’s as if you want to know more here it is feeling. It teaches about religion without endorsing religion. This is a distinction that not everything makes.
When it comes to dealing to the darker aspects of the story – Krampus and Black Pete, McCullough tells those aspects of punishers without making the story scary. There is even a slight shift in tone that seems to indicate that while the reader is perfectly fine in believing in Jolly Old Saint Nick, belief in Krampus and Black Pete isn’t required. Admittedly while McCullough does mention that Black Pete is suppose to be Ethiopian in origin, there is not mention of the debate about the figure’s place in the modern Netherlands. In fairness, I’m not sure how, or even if you can, adequately do so in a children’s book. This is in a point in the book that a teacher could use as a jumping off point, at least in the higher levels. A high school teacher, for instance, could use the section Black Pete from this book paired with an article run in a newspaper (such as the New York Times did last year) to jump start a discussion.
There is also a source listing at the back and the brief author and illustrator biographies at the end add a sense of whimsy.