O Christmas Tree

by Vashanti Rahaman
illus. Frané Lessac
Boyds Mill Press

  • 1997 Notable Trade Book in Social Studies (NCSS/CBC)

A conventional title gives way to a surprising story about the unique Christmas traditions that have sprouted in the West Indies. Anslem is ecstatic because this year, for the first time, his family is going to get a “real” tree.

When he goes to meet the boats that bring fresh evergreens from the north, his heart breaks, for all the trees have dried into brown skeletons. The tree he paints white and sprays with pine cleaner falls over, and as he laments to Miss Mary that a “Christmas tree would still be nice” she says, “Nice could be right in front of you, but you busy looking behind.” Anslem recognises the true Christmas “trees” the Poinsettias that bloom in the Caribbean every holiday season.

This story is full of wonderful illustrations of the anthropological phenomenon of syncretism, in which cultures adopt the traditions and habits of others and make them their own. The characters move between West Indian dialect to standard English throughout the story, giving it the ring of authenticity. Lessac’s naive, vibrant illustrations are just right in their depictions of this charming story of Christmas in a land with no snow but plenty of spirit.

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