I'll Be Home for Christmas: True Stories for the Season
David Alan Allred
Deseret Book (Salt Lake City), 1998. Hardcover:
Suggested retail price: $17.95 (US)
I'll Be Home for Christmas, a collection of 33 Christmas narratives, belongs with a whole range of Christmas gift books that appear every Christmas. The democratic aspect of the book is appealing as it chronicles the Christmas memories of Church members, both prominent and rank and file. Marion D. Hanks and Leonard J. Arrington contribute with the same prestige as J. K. "Trapper" Hatch and Linda Gappmeyer Reed. The attractive cover and double columned layout are designed to make the book appealing and easy to read. The narratives are short, usually around four pages long, and are perfect for picking the book up for short sittings. Adding to their readability, the stories generally follow the conventions of the Ensign's "Mormon Sampler" section, although several stories exhibit more aesthetic effort. For example, Emma Lou Thayne's Christmas story moves beyond a simple plot and portrays Christmas images as well: "I set down the carton of Santa mugs, their eyes washed away after twenty-five years of hot chocolate" (66).
The familiar "voice" of Lloyd Newell opens the book with anaccount of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Christmas trip to theHoly Land (written with his wife, Karmel). Donald R. Marshalldescribes Christmas as a missionary in Tahiti, while Saren Eyredescribes a far different Christmas by publishing extracts fromher missionary journal in Romania. Through the 124 pages of thebook, readers see Christmases in Vietnam, the Czech Republic,England, Germany, Tahiti, Japan, Romania, and Italy, and others,including many locations in the United States. Even with thecosmopolitan breadth to the book, its focus is on AmericanChristmas traditions. When the narrative's setting is outside theUnited States, the Christmas traditions are still describedalmost exclusively by Americans; foreign cultures are discussedonly in comparison to American Christmases. I don't see this as amajor criticism of the book, but it does highlight the assumptionthat the "home" in "I'll Be Home for Christmas" is the westernUnited States.
Overall, there is a wide range of stories in the collection.Some, like those written by Emma Lou Thayne, Donald R. Marshall,Sherrie Johnson, Mary Ellen Edmunds, and Elder Hanks, areskillful presentations of the themes of Christmas, family, home,and faith. Other narratives like those of Daniel H. Ludlow,Stanley B. Kimball, and Lillian Thatcher, while still providing aworthwhile perspective, seem to wander more and add digressionarydetails. The range of stories also provides interestingcontrasts. James B. Allen, Saren Eyre, Donald R. Marshall alltell of being missionaries at Christmas. Barbara B. Jones andScot Facer and Maurine Jensen Proctor tell about having childrenon missions at Christmas. Likewise, many of the narratives dealwith young couples and spending Christmas away from home whileEmma Lou Thayne describes the challenges of adjusting toChristmas with the children grown up and move out.
Beyond being just a Christmas gift book, I'll Be Home forChristmas also has value as a barometer of the values ofLatter-day Saints. The stories show the importance Latter-daySaints place on family, compassion, service, and faith. The worthof the book reaches beyond its function as a repository of heart-warming stories. It's worth also comes from the collectionof voices telling significant life experiences. As folkloristWilliam A. Wilson has written, "to know each others' hearts andminds, we must know each others' stories" (179).
William A. Wilson, "Mormon Folklore: Cut from the Marrow ofeveryday Experience."
Tending the Garden: Essays on Mormon Literature, ed. EugeneEngland and Lavina Fielding Anderson. Salt Lake City: SignatureBooks, 1996. 179-196.
© 1999 David Alan Allred