Picks and Pans Review: The Time-Life Book of Christmas

updated 12/21/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/21/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

Edited by Jessie Wood

A kind of one-volume Christmas encyclopedia, this would be the ideal book to leaf through late some night after the presents are all wrapped, the tree is trimmed and the plum pudding is steaming on the stove. Some of the text is enjoyable. The section on the Christmas tree, for instance, notes that having a trimmed tree in the home was originally a German custom brought to the U.S. by early settlers and that during the Revolutionary War, Hessian mercenaries set up trees for the children of Newport, R.I. A chapter on Christmas literature includes writing by Robert Benchley, Garrison Keillor and Ogden Nash. Also included is a booklet with music and lyrics for 24 seasonal songs. A lot of the writing tends to the painfully obvious, though: "No matter how we view the influence of advertising on the national celebration of Christmas, it seems certain that this aspect of the holiday is here to stay." The book's real allure is the treasury of illustrations it offers. There's 19th-century cartoonist Thomas Nast's version of Santa, for example, or a photograph of the young Kennedy family decorating a White House fireplace. There are pictures of such celebrity Santas as Cybill Shepherd, William Shatner and Bob Hope, as well as such old holiday cards as one from 1881 showing two elephants and promising "A Trunk full of Love and Good wishes." Browsing through all these cultural artifacts could make an enjoyable contribution to the sense of continuity that is such a satisfying part of the season. (Prentice Hall, $24.95)

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