Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Five Reasons to Visit Your Library This Holiday Season

Your local library can be a great place for inspiration–or even relaxation–during the hectic holiday rush. Click on our infographic below to see why you should stop by your library this winter holiday season.

Public Libraries During the Holidays

Infographic: Five Reasons to Visit Your Library This Holiday Season (Created by Amy Shaw, Content Editor Senior, ProQuest)

“The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry

The Gift of the Magi Research Topic

“The Gift of the Magi” Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Talk about your twist endings! If you are an educator looking for ways to round out the ELA curriculum before the Christmas break, you might consider having your elementary/middle school class read O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi.” Full disclosure: I was aware of this short story for many years but never really took the time to read it until recently. As short stories go, this one is very short; it can be read in about 15 minutes or less.

O. Henry (aka William Sydney Porter) was known for unexpected endings to his stories. “The Gift of the Magi” provides a good example of comic irony. You all know the story: A young couple (Jim and Della Young) lives in a small apartment in the city. They each have one possession in which they take much pride: Jim, his grandfather’s pocket watch and Della her beautiful long, flowing hair. It’s Christmas Eve, and Della has only $1.87 to spend for her husband’s Christmas gift. She wishes to buy him a fob chain for his watch. To get the rest of the $21 she needs, Della cuts and sells her beautiful hair (evidently a common practice at the turn of the 20th century). She then buys the watch chain and hurries home.

O. Henry Research Topic

O. Henry Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary


If you haven’t guessed by now, Jim arrives home from work, stunned to see Della with her hair shorn in a chic Audrey Hepburn boy-cut! She presents him with the watch chain. Here comes the twist: Jim, surprised that she has cut her hair to buy him a gift, now gives his Christmas gift to her: a set of combs for her long hair. But, to get the money to buy the combs, Jim had to sell his watch. And, if you surmised that after this the couple grows bitter with the loss of their cherished belongings, drifts apart and that their marriage ends in a messy, public divorce…you would be WRONG!

O. Henry’s story was first published in The New York Sunday World in 1905 and later in book form as part of a short-story collection called “The Four Million” (1906). The tale has been adapted several times into plays and TV specials. One version that immediately jumps to mind is Disney’sOnce Upon a Christmas” (1999) in which Mickey and Mini Mouse play the lead roles. Another adaptation is a short-film anthology called “O. Henry’s Full House” (narrated by John Steinbeck), in which “The Gift of the Magi” is featured (1952). It can often be seen on Turner Classic Movies this time of year. Other than A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, this is probably one of the most-loved stories read during the holidays. The title, of course, gets its name from the Three Wise Men who presented the Christ child with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

"Gifts of the Magi" (1905)

O. Henry’s Original “Gifts of the Magi” (1905) [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

Using eLibrary’s resources, teachers can find adaptations of “The Gift of the Magi” that would be perfect for an upper elementary or middle-school in-class play. If you want to teach your students about comic irony, or if you just want to present a heart-warming example of self-sacrificial love, take a few minutes of class time and read O. Henry’s classic tale.

eLibrary Resources:

American Literature (Research Topic)

Common Core ELA Grade 8: Literature (Research Topic)

Features of a Short Story (Hutchinson Encyclopedia)

The Gift of the Magi Classic Play (Scholastic Scope Magazine)

The Gift of the Magi Play (Scholastic Action Magazine)

The Gift of the Magi Adapted Play (Storyworks Magazine)

A Reading of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” (CBC Radio Website)

Using Irony (Website)

Bing’s “White Christmas” First Performed 75 Years Ago!

In the malls. At the restaurant table. On your car radio.

This time of year, you can practically hear Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” EVERYwhere! That’s because it is one of the world’s favorite holiday songs, and it was first performed 75 years ago, on Christmas Day in 1941.

“White Christmas,” penned by Irving Berlin, is one of the best-selling singles of all time, selling over a million copies worldwide. The song even inspired a 1954 movie by the same name.

Want to find out more about the man with the smooth voice singing this famous tune?

Bing Crosby Research Topic

Bing Crosby Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

eLibrary also offers lots more information about Christmas Day itself, including its origins and traditions.

Christmas Research Topic

Christmas Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Here are other Related Topics you might find interesting:

Bob Hope

Danny Kaye

Dorothy Lamour

Frank Sinatra

Rosemary Clooney

CultureGrams—Christmas Around the World


A Colombian nativity scene
Image credit: Salym Fayad

As Christmas approaches, people all over the world are preparing for the holiday in their unique ways. Read about some distinctive Christmas traditions from Europe, Africa, Oceania, and Latin America below and visit CultureGrams holiday sections to find out more!

Argentina: Extended families gather on Christmas Eve for dinner, music, and often dancing. Candy is served just before midnight, when the fireworks displays begin. Gifts from Papá Noel (Father Christmas) are opened on Christmas Eve, while all other gifts are exchanged on Christmas Day. The singing of traditional Christmas carols by family members features prominently in Christmas celebrations.

Mozambique: Christmas is celebrated only by Christians. Church meetings are held in the morning; the afternoon is spent with family. A special meal is served and usually includes meat, fish, fried potatoes, rice, and cake. People celebrate with music and dancing. Some families exchange presents, but this is not a major part of the holiday. Family Day falls on the same day as Christmas and is celebrated by all Mozambicans. Celebrations intertwine with Christmas celebrations; the main difference is that non-Christians do not attend church on this day.

ArmeniaBecause Armenia was the first state in the world to adopt Christianity as the official state religion, many Armenians celebrate Christmas (Surb Tsnund) with a special solemnity. Christians attend church and participate in the Divine Liturgy (a church service) conducted by the chief bishop of the Armenian Apostolic Church. On Christmas Eve, families bring lit candles from the church into their homes to purify the homes from the power of darkness. A typical Christmas dinner for families includes fish and rice, served with raisins, dried fruits, and Armenian red wine.

Colombia: The nine nights before Christmas are called la novena, when family and friends gather to take part in traditional Christmas prayers, sing carols, and eat customary Christmas snacks such as natilla (similar to flan) and buñuelos (fried dough balls). Each night the novena is celebrated in a different home, and these events often turn into parties that include drinking and dancing. On Christmas Eve, families eat a large dinner, pray around the pesebre, and sing Christmas carols. At midnight, they exchange presents.

Tonga: On Christmas Eve, Sunday-school children may perform the story of Jesus’s birth for their families and walk around the perimeter of their communities singing Christmas carols. Meanwhile, older Tongans visit family members. Afterward, children go home, where they may receive a gift from their parents—this might be an inexpensive toy or balloons and candy. No matter what day of the week it falls on, Christmas day is treated as a Sunday; people refrain from outdoor activities (other than cooking) and businesses close. On Christmas morning, most people attend a church service. This is followed by a gathering of extended family for a special lunch of yams and roasted pigs.

SwedenAn important part of many Swedes’ modern Christmas celebrations is a television program called Kalle Ankas Jul, which is broadcast on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Each year since 1959, much of the country has gathered to watch this compilation of clips from different cartoons, whose ratings outperform nearly all other television events throughout the year. Santa Claus is called Jultomte—the “Christmas gnome.” The name Jultomte once referred to a fabled gnome who watched over Swedish homes during the year. In the modern tradition, he brings gifts for the children to the door on Christmas Eve. After Jultomte delivers the gifts, the family dances around the tree and sings carols.

12 Winter Things You Can Borrow From Libraries

Happy Holidays!

Need some ideas to spruce up your holiday? Our infographic below lists a sampling of 12 wintertime items you can borrow from libraries besides books.

Library Winter Things Infographic

12 Winter Things You Can Check Out at Libraries (Infographic) via Piktochart


70 Years Later, and It’s Still “A Wonderful Life”

"It's a Wonderful Life" Research Topic

“It’s a Wonderful Life” Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

When it comes to Frank Capra’sIt’s a Wonderful Life,” people usually break down into two camps: They either love it or hate it. Critics typically have the same response – some praise it as an example of great American cinema, while others complain that it is sappy and overly sentimental. But one thing on which both fans and critics agree is the power of Jimmy Stewart’s performance as the decent, yet frustrated, George Bailey. As most of you know, the movie starts out as a comedy with flashbacks detailing important moments in Bailey’s life. Then, the film abruptly switches gears when George’s Building & Loan business suddenly loses $8,000. George, realizing he and his family will be financially ruined and that he might end up in prison, decides to kill himself.

Frank Capra, 1930s

Director Frank Capra [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

James Stewart Research Topic

James Stewart Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary










Jimmy Stewart’s performance from this point on becomes quite interesting. No longer the dependable son and father and citizen, Stewart summons up the dark side of George Bailey….a darkness that he was feeling in his own life. During World War II, Stewart flew B-24 bombers for the 703rd Bomber Squadron. Stewart spent over 4 years in the military and 15 months of that time in dangerous bombing runs. According to the book “Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe,” by Robert Matzen, Stewart suffered from PTSD and battle fatigue after he came home from the war. He was so thin and gaunt, that some of his friends were worried about him. Men who served with him said that Jimmy was not afraid of being shot down; he was more afraid of making a mistake and killing his own American troops down on the ground.

Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter

Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

Donna Reed & Jimmy Stewart

Donna Reed with James Stewart [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]










After the war, when Stewart went back to Hollywood, he was extremely anxious because he had not acted in a film in almost five years. Frank Capra (who was battling his own PTSD issues after filming documentaries of the war) approached Stewart with an idea for a movie. Stewart was reluctant, but agreed to do the project. Co-star Donna Reed said there were some tense moments during filming, and it was “not a happy set.”  Stewart’s character was deaf in one ear, just as Stewart himself had suffered hearing loss due to the sound of the planes in long bombing missions. Behind the scenes, Stewart was questioning whether he should quit acting because it was such a superficial profession. It was then that Lionel Barrymore (Mr. Potter) said to him, “So, are you saying it’s more worthwhile to drop bombs on people than to entertain them?” After hearing this, Stewart threw himself fully into the role of George Bailey, giving one of the best performances of his career.

"It's a Wonderful Life" Screenshot

Iconic Scene from “Wonderful Life” [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

This Christmas season, being the 70th anniversary of the release of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” take time to watch the movie with a fresh set of eyes, paying close attention to Stewart’s performance, especially during the scenes where George Bailey seems at his most desperate. After the war, these same scenes may have been acted out in homes in small towns all over America.


Wonderful Life Trivia:

For the role of Mary Hatch, Capra wanted his favorite actress Jean Arthur, but since she had Broadway commitments, he sought out Ginger Rogers and then Olivia de Havilland, but then found Donna Reed.

The film is based on the short story “The Greatest Gift” (1943) by Philip Van Doren Stern.

The fictitious Bedford Falls is based on the real-life town of Seneca Falls, NY.

The character of Mr. Potter is likely based on Norman J. Gould, a Seneca Falls businessman who had control over the politicians and much of the economy of the town.

It’s a Wonderful Life” was Capra’s favorite among films he directed, and he screened it for his family every Christmas.

The famous swimming pool scene was filmed in the gymnasium at Beverly Hills High School. Built in 1939, the pool is still in operation.

SKS Spotlight: Winter Traditions

Candles <<br />> by Consumer Product Safety Commission via ProQuest SIRS Government Reporter [Public Domain]

by Consumer Product Safety Commission via ProQuest SIRS Government Reporter [Public Domain]

The winter season has arrived, bringing with it a diverse array of winter holidays around the world, each reflecting the culture from which it came. Long-established elements of many winter traditions are fire and  light, which warm even the coldest and darkest months in much of the Northern Hemisphere. From flickering Hanukkah candles to Christmas trees decorated with lights; from the burning of the Yule log to the lighting of the Kwanzaa kinara, these winter celebrations incorporate light into the festivities. Some winter observances engender a sense of community: in China, the winter season is commemorated with lavish street festivals during the Lunar New Year; in Mexico, Las Posadas is commemorated with street parties and processions paying homage to Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging in Bethlehem. Some spiritual observations, including the Buddhist holiday Bodhi Day, are more meditative. Other winter holidays are celebrated with feasts, such as Santerian saints’ days or Baha’i faith’s spiritual observances. Learn more about worldwide winter observances and celebrations in SKS/SIRS Issues Researcher December Spotlight of the Month.

National Christmas Tree Lighting

Winter is fast approaching and so is the season of Christmas. During this time of year, many people celebrate traditions with their families and communities. Activities include holiday parades, visiting Santa at the mall, decorating houses, and more. Since 1923, an important American tradition has been the annual National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony where the President of the United States lights the “National Christmas Tree.” This year, the ceremony takes place Dec. 3, 2015, in front of the White House at the Ellipse at President’s Park.

National Christmas Tree Washington DC

Aerial of the U.S. National Christmas tree on the northern end of the Ellipse in the President’s Park in Washington, D.C., in December 2011.
(Credit: Public domain via National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior)

Over the years, various trees have been used for the ceremony. The first decorated trees were cut trees and some were 23 feet tall! In 1978, a living tree was successfully planted in the Ellipse and was 30 feet tall. Since 2010, a few replacement trees have been planted in the same location.

Tickets for the actual day of the lighting ceremony are free and distributed through a lottery system. There are about 3,000 seats plus 14,000 standing spots for visitors. But the tree can be visited throughout the whole month of December.

To read more about this event, visit the official Tree Lighting website, the National Park Foundation, and the National Park Service websites.

Educators can also visit ProQuest SIRS Discoverer for student resources on Christmas and holiday traditions. Here are some examples of searches to get you started:

Christmas trees
Christmas, History

Epiphany: The Three Wise Men and More

We three kings of orient are;
Bearing gifts, we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star

Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo - Adoration of the Magi [Public Domain]

Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo – Adoration of the Magi [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Most people consider the Christmas season to be over after the gifts have been opened, the wrapping paper has been cleaned up and the tree has been taken down. Many, however, carry on the celebration of Jesus for twelve days after Christmas (the inspiration for the carol). Epiphany, one of the oldest celebrations of Christianity, falls on January 6 and is a commemoration of the trip made by the Three Wise Men to honor Jesus after his birth.

Popular tradition has it that the Magi were three kings who heard a prophecy of the coming Messiah and followed a star to Bethlehem. But, the gospel of Matthew–the only one that mentions the visitors–does not call them kings, nor does it name or even number them. (The story of their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh seems to be the basis for the idea that there were three.) One theory is that the Magi were Zoroastrian Mede priests. While such confusion about the biblical and historical records has even caused some Christians to question the story, the holiday remains an important one.

There is more to the religious significance of Epiphany than just the story of the Magi. In the the Eastern Christian Churches, it represents Jesus’ manifestation on Earth. Jesus’ birth and the arrival of the Magi, his first miracle at the wedding at Cana and his baptism are all commemorated in varying denominations.

Epiphany traditions vary by culture, and here a few: In Spanish and Latin American tradition, Epiphany is celebrated with rosca de reyes (king’s cake), a ringed cake with a baby figure or a bean hidden inside. Russians take an icy dip to symbolize Jesus’ baptism. European countries have multiple traditions involving sweets. Some traditions date back to pagan times, and in Britain, some of them have been making a comeback. Since the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, there is a mix of world traditions and unique ones, such as the blessing of homes and a dive for a cross in a Florida bayou.

This was just a quick rundown of the history and traditions of Epiphany. To really dig into this topic and many others, search eLibrary and follow the links above and below.

Research Topics: Bible, Christmas, Christianity, Zoroastrianism

Subject browse sections (Click on underlined words to widen or narrow the scope and click on “View Results” to see eLibrary resources. Items with stars next to them will display Research Topic pages.): Holidays, Religion


Dutch Christmas Traditions

Each year, countries around the world celebrate Christmas with legendary figures who give gifts to children. In the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas, a tall and decidedly not plump bishop, arrives by boat in mid-November. He rides his white horse and parades through city streets. On the eve of 5 December, he  leaves small gifts in the wooden clogs of Dutch children. But over the past few years, Saint Nicholas’s helper has sparked a debate between the importance of tradition and concerns about race.

Chocolate figurines of Zwarte Piet and Saint Nicholas. Photo by Rachel Ligairi.

Chocolate figurines of Zwarte Piet and Saint Nicholas. Photo by Rachel Ligairi.


Zwarte Piet (translated as Black Peter) is Saint Nicholas’s helper. In the past, Piet was responsible for beating naughty children with a switch, but today he gives candy and treats to children at parades. He is brought to life by Dutch actors who wear black face paint, curly black wigs, gold earrings, exaggerated red lips, and a colorful costume imitating clothing worn by Moors in the 17th century. Many Dutch feel that the character is a wonderful part of the Christmas tradition. But as the Netherlands becomes more diverse, some Dutch citizens wonder if the character of Zwarte Piet is a racial stereotype from a more prejudiced past. In some ways, the Zwarte Piet character has changed with the times. Once considered Saint Nicholas’s servant or slave, today Piet is framed as a helper. Even the appearance has been softened, with face paint changed to look like soot from travelling down a chimney. Still, protests have been held against parades in large cities like Amsterdam, and the issue has even made its way into the Dutch courts.

To read more about the controversy over Zwarte Piet, check out these news articles. And to learn more about holiday traditions around the world—and what they’ve come to mean in the present—check out the Holidays sections of CultureGrams’ country reports.