It’s The Most Wonderful Time for a Rare Book
Archives and Special Collections invites you to “branch out” with a book from our collections this holiday season.
The holiday season comes with a long tradition of storytelling. Today we’re sharing a few examples from our rare book collections that show how holiday stories have evolved over time, including retellings in radio plays, pastorelas and other formats.
A Christmas Carol in prose: being a ghost story of Christmas by Charles Dickens (1934)
Ghosts on Christmas? Ebenezer Scrooge spends his Christmas Eve reflecting on his life with the ghost of his former business partner and the ghosts of Christmas. Scrooge has a lot of self-reflection to do to change in time for the holiday, but will it be for better or worse?
Charles Dicken’s classic Christmas tale was first published in 1843. This edition of A Christmas Carol in prose: being a ghost story of Christmas was published in 1934 with illustrations by Gordon Ross. It is number 747 out of 1500 copies made for the Limited Editions Club, and it is signed by the illustrator. Some scholars of literature argue that this story attempted to define the spirit of Christmas. Generations later, the message behind A Christmas Carol still resonates — more reproductions of this story are available now to enjoy in a variety of formats.
The Plot to Overthrow Christmas: A Holiday Play by Norman Corwin (1940)
When the holidays are near, you can be someone scheming to ruin holiday cheer. The Plot to Overthrow Christmas is a radio play that was first performed on December 25, 1938, for CBS Radio Network. This play features characters that you may recognize, such as Caligula and the Roman Emperor Nero who conspire with Mephistopheles (the Devil) to overthrow Christmas. What might they do, and where does Santa Claus come in?
This book is one of 150 copies made by Peter Pauper Press in 1940. The verse of this play consists almost entirely of rhyme and includes elaborate sound cues. Corwin elevates the listener’s experience with these narrative structures and leaves the road open for others to reproduce his play to different audiences. The estimated run time for this play: 25-30 minutes.
Los pastores (c. 1952) and Navidad & Pastorela (1958)
The next two books come from the Michael and Margaret B. Harrison Western Research Center and show two different versions of pastorelas in old Spanish California.
In old Spanish California, pastorelas were a prominent part of the Christmas season. Pastorelas are short dramas that recreate the shepherds quest to find Jesus after his birth. Pastorelas usually emphasize the journey of los pastores (the shepherds) and their struggle to overcome evil. Many of these plays were commissioned by the Catholic Church and were used to promote the lesson that good overcomes evil at all costs. However, pastorelas evolved to include humor, music, dance, vibrant costumes, and masks.
Los Pastores published by Homer H. Boelter (c.1952)
The first rare book, Los pastores = The shepherds, an old California Christmas play… is a reproduction of a manuscript held at the Bancroft Library in UC Berkeley. This pastorela was created by Padre Florencio Ibañez sometime during his stay at Soledad Mission in the years 1803-1818. This reproduction was published by Homer H. Boelter sometime in the 1950s and includes vibrant artwork on each page. At the end of the book, the publisher included scans of the original manuscript for this play. This pastorela is only Padre Ibañez’s interpretation of the shepherds’ plight and is to be one of many versions told at the time of production.
Navidad & Pastorela published by the California Historical Society (1958)
The second rare book from the Harrison Collection, Navidad: a Christmas day with the early Californians is published by the California Historical Society and pieces together different manuscripts to create a new understanding of Christmas in early California.
The first part of the book, “Navidad,” originates from an article that was published by the California Illustrated Magazine, in December 1892. This article was written by Arturo Bandini and it serves as a firsthand narrative of the way early Californians celebrated Christmas. The editor for the California Historical Society publication includes this piece to contextualize the cultural significance of pastorelas at the time.
The second part of the book, “Pastorela” is a translation of 3 combined manuscripts. Two manuscripts are different editorial versions from the Antonio Coronel Collection housed in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, History, and Science. The third one is the manuscript from the Bancroft mentioned above. The editor’s note explains how reproductions could vary among the producers and how she made the creative decision to combine some aspects of each to create this pastorela.
Notably, these stories change with each retelling or reproduction as the authors make their own creative decisions.
Wrapping it Up
All these books can’t wait to be unwrapped (figuratively) by your creative minds. Plan your visit to view these and other rare books in person at Archives and Special Collections. We acknowledge that there are gaps in the archive that do not represent all holidays celebrated during this time of year, and we are committed to improving these areas, as outlined in the UC Davis Library Strategic Plan.
We wish you a happy holiday season and a happy new year.