Cover for BALLOWE: Christmas in Illinois. Click for larger image

Christmas in Illinois

A treasury of Christmas memories and images from the Land of Lincoln

"Christmas seems to have been always with us. It is that time of year when we expect good cheer and goodwill, a moment's respite from the year's vicissitudes, solace during difficult times," writes James Ballowe in his introduction to Christmas in Illinois. This book is about the holiday as remembered by Illinoisans. Some are widely familiar--John W. Allen, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sandra Cisneros, Mike Royko, Carl Sandburg, Joseph Smith--but most are known only in their close-knit communities that together represent the very best of the Prairie State.

We learn here about the customs of Christmas from Chicago to Cairo, Belleville to Danville, before statehood to the present day, through hard times and good. Tales, poems, news reports, memoirs, recipes, and images are arranged in sections on Christmas in Illinois history, living traditions, songs and symbols, Christmas outdoors, eating merrily, and memories. We see how bright an occasion Christmas has been, and sometimes amusing, raucous, or even dark.

The collection's highlights include Chicago's Christmas tree ship, Peoria's Santa Parade, Rockford's Julotta service, a Victorian holiday in Bloomington, and Audubon's 1810 Christmas on the Cache River. Nature writers detail holiday bird-watching expeditions along the North Shore and in deepest southern Illinois. A letter from a member of the 130th Illinois Infantry captures Christmas Day 1863, and Jack McReynolds recalls West Frankfort's 1951 Orient Number Two mine disaster that thereafter haunted the holiday for him and many others.

The holiday table is not neglected, with traditional recipes for wild game, pickled herring, and all manner of Christmas cookies. A wide array of illustrations includes images of Chicago's grand State Street parade, the Santa Lucia celebration at Bishop Hill, Belleville's Santa Claus House, Millikin University's Vespers tradition, the University of Illinois madrigal singers, Studs Terkel singing songs of good cheer, and the holiday art of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Heat up some cider, put a log on the fire, and curl up with Christmas in Illinois to share the holiday with friends both old and new.

"For those of us for whom the meaning of Christmas has been all but lost in an increasingly nasty blizzard of commercialism, this book provides a lovely and even necessary antidote. Here you will find stories of celebrations (some of them surprisingly rowdy) and Santas and parades and traditions held dear, from big towns and small, told across the years. A marvelous book that would be right at home under anyone's Christmas tree."--Rick Kogan, author, Chicago Tribune columnist, and WGN radio host

"James Ballowe has captured the story of Christmas in Illinois as a 'cultural index' of the state's rich ethnic and landscape diversity as only a scholar with the heart of a poet can do. From his engaging introduction to the diverse stories he has assembled, Christmas in Illinois provides new insights into the celebration of Christmas in America."--Bonnie W. Styles, director, Illinois State Museum

"James Ballowe has collected a delightful array of charming stories, interesting anecdotes, and arresting images that capture the myriad ways Illinoisans have celebrated Christmas for over two centuries."--Gordon Pruett, publisher, Crossfire Press, and author of One Hundred Years of Herrin, Illinois

"It is not surprising that the phrase 'Christmas spirit' is commonly used to describe the season. As James Ballowe deftly shows with a diverse and evocative array of selections, however one celebrates the Christmas season, it is a feeling usually of ineffable joy and satisfaction that defies simple explanation."--Thomas F. Schwartz, Illinois State Historian

"Christmas in Illinois is like a box of chocolates. You will be surprised by the variety of essays and remembrances and delighted wherever your finger falls--John Knoepfle, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Mike Royko! Moreover, after reading editor Jim Ballowe's gracefully written and thoughtful introduction, you will be persuaded that Christmas in our state is so much more than a holiday or even a season. 'Christmas' has become a place itself--as diverse as the people who live in the state."--Kristina A. Valaitis, executive director, Illinois Humanities Council

A native of Herrin, James Ballowe is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at Bradley University. He is the author of, most recently, A Man of Salt and Trees: The Life of Joy Morton. He lives in Ottawa, Illinois.

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