December 7, 1999-January 29, 2000
A Ha! Christmas
Curated by Jock Elliott
Celebrating the magic and joy of this midwinter festival, A Ha! Christmas will be on public view from 7 December 1999 through 29 January 2000 at the Grolier Club.
The exhibition, with over 140 works carefully selected by Jock Elliott from his collection of over 3000 Christmas-related books, illustrations, pamphlets and ephemera, emphasizes the secular, festive aspect of the season.
Elliott, following service in World War II and a few random forays into book collecting, began to focus on Christmas material, because as he says, "I love Christmas. Since childhood it was always a time of enchantment." Focus became a passion, with no end in sight.
Among the earliest highlights of the exhibition are an illuminated leaf of "The Adoration of the Magi" from a Book of Hours (1430-1450); leaves from The Golden Legend, the first account of the Nativity printed in English, by William Caxton (1483), and the Indian Bible, the first account of the Nativity printed in America (1663); A Ha! Christmas, a 1647 pamphlet; and Christmas Gambolls, which contains the earliest separate printing of "The Twelve Days of Christmas."
Treasures from the nineteenth century include the hand-colored illustration, "Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle," largely responsible for launching the custom of the tree; the first Christmas card, and a printer's proof of the first card; the January 1841 issue of American Monthly Magazine, with the first illustration of Santa Claus descending a chimney, a Dickens letter in which he says he is too busy (writing A Christmas Carol) to accept an invitation; and an original illustration of "Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig"at the Ball by Rackham.
A presentation copy of Eloise at Christmastime, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and original paintings by Charles Burchfield and Al Hirschfeld of "The Night Before Christmas" are among the more recent delights on display.
To quote freely from Jock Elliott's historical introduction to the catalogue which accompanies A Ha! Christmas: "In ancient times, the greatest festivals took place around the winter solstice …. (Later) in the Roman world, came the Saturnalia, honoring the god of harvest, which was a riotous season, with drunkenness and licentious behavior …. The Christian faith was born 2000 years ago, but no one knows even the year, much less the day Jesus was born. The early Christian Church struggled to become established. Its leaders knew the powerful hold the midwinter festival had on pagan worshipers, and in the mid-fourth century, the Church decreed that the 25th of December would be the day of Christ's Nativity, hoping to draw pagans from worship of the sun god to worship the Son of God." As Elliott notes further, this was a ploy that both succeeded and backfired.
A fully illustrated catalogue will be ready in October of 1999.
A Ha! Christmas will be on exhibit at the Grolier Club, 47 East 60th Sreet, throughout the holiday season, 7 December - 29 January 2000, free of charge. Hours are Monday - Saturday, 10 to 5*, except 23, 25, 31 December, when the Club is closed.