Title: Vintage Christmas: Holiday Stories from Rural PEI
Author: Marlene Campbell
Genre: Nonfiction, short story collection, memoir-ish
Synopsis: Travel back in time to when Christmas was a simple affair: children were content to receive an apple, an orange, or a piece of barley candy in their stockings; clothes, meals, and decorations were all homemade; and it was time spent with family, not expensive gifts, that warmed hearts during the holiday season.
This nostalgic collection recalls Christmas celebrations of the 1930s, 40s, 50s, and 60s, transporting readers to the unheated farmhouse bedrooms and cozy barn stalls of rural Prince Edward Island, and the thrilling big-city department store visits to nearby Summerside. It turns out one thing has not changed: the most memorable part of any Christmas cannot be bought and sold.
Oh my goodness, I loved reading this book so much! I had to post this review right away because this is, in my mind, the quintessential Christmas storybook for adults who embrace simple living, but with Christmas only a few days away I did not have any more reviews planned before it!
I chose Vintage Christmas as my “spontaneous” choice for the A Literary Christmas reading challenge. To be completely honest, it was the mention of Prince Edward Island (the setting for Anne of Green Gables) which initially caught my eye while shelving at the library. Secondly, it’s a small book, so I figured it would be relatively easy to finish quickly. I was not wrong on that count. I also fully expected to be a bit disillusioned by the time I finished reading about PEI as an actual place, rather than as the setting for a fictional story. About this, I was entirely wrong. Reading these stories reminded me of my childhood obsession with the American Girl Molly and her stories, set in 1944. Even though the stories in Vintage Christmas cover multiple decades, they all retain the nostalgia and sense of pure joy and anticipation found in both childhood Christmases and the books I loved in elementary school.
Prince Edward Island is not large. After reading Vintage Christmas, I googled its land area: 2,185 miles squared. For reference, that makes it almost twice as large as Rhode Island (the smallest US state), but a minuscule 1/70 the size of my home state of Oklahoma. It should not be surprising, then, that the stories in this collection fit together and tell a unified story of the Island over the years. There are several narrators, some of whom are related to one another, and some who mention one another from time to time. There is magnificent continuity for a book made up of stories from so many different people and which jumps from one year to the next (or thereabout) with each chapter. Even though all of the characters are not from the same town, there is again plenty of overlap so that they stories and lives make sense and remain related even in the instances without a direct connection.
The introduction is just as fascinating as the stories themselves. In it, Campbell explains how she spent years gathering stories orally for a community Christmas program she is involved in on PEI. Each of the eighteen stories is not only a piece of the Island’s history, it is intimately that of the narrator, and it is true. It is amazing to me how Campbell spent her time patiently listening to those older than her in order to learn about her community and heritage, and then used those experiences to create something tangible to pass down to others. Her respect for those around her is apparent through her writing: each story is introduced with a few sentences explaining who the narrator is and when and where she heard their story. A few even include the narrator’s response to hearing or seeing their own story retold.
Aside from the historical, geographical, and cultural intrigue in Vintage Christmas, the stories are fun and enjoyable. Delving into a child’s anticipation of Christmas, learning why the Christmas story they choose to tell stands out to them so many years later, and seeing what life was like when they were growing up is such a treat. The writing is incredible; each voice is unique. I didn’t have any trouble remembering personalities or characteristics from one story to the next, even though many share similar lifestyles and conditions.
I highly recommend Vintage Christmas: Holiday Stories from Rural PEI for any fan of Anne of Green Gables, and those who like historical nonfiction narratives. It reminds me vaguely of Winesburg, Ohio, so if you enjoy its style of short stories, I think you will like this as well. Vintage Christmas is a wonderful addition to any Christmas or Canadian history bookshelf, filled with Christmas cheer and vibrant stories of simple lives.
I have two more books to complete for #ALiteraryChristmas! I am nearly through Waiting Here for You: An Advent Journey of Hope, but I am woefully struggling through The Carols of Christmas. It’s not that this isn’t interesting, it’s just more academic in nature and therefore a slower read. The challenge runs through the end of the year though, so there is still just over a week to complete it. I think I will just squeak by before starting on reading challenges for 2019.
Until the next chapter,