A new book published by the UI Press shares images, recipes, poems and memories of Christmas by prominent and not-so-prominent Illinoisans.
“Christmas seems to have been always with us,” writes James Ballowe in his introduction to “Christmas in Illinois.” “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.” This book is about the holiday as remembered by familiar Illinoisans such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Sandra Cisneros, Mike Royko, Carl Sandburg and Joseph Smith as well as many people known only in their close-knit communities that together represent the Prairie State, said Ballowe, a professor emeritus of English at Bradley University.
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. The book shows how bright an occasion Christmas has been, and how it is 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 Chicago’s 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 also is featured, with traditional recipes for wild game, pickled herring, and all kinds of Christmas cookies.
A variety 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 UI madrigal singers, Studs Terkel singing songs of good cheer, and the holiday art of Edgar Rice Burroughs.