________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 10. . . . January, 2003

cover Yesterday's Santa and the Chanukah Miracle.

Sarah Hartt-Snowbell. Illustrated by Patty Gallinger.
Toronto, ON: Napoleon, 2002.
32 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 0-929141-14-8.

Subject Headings:
Christmas stories, Canadian (English).
Hanukkah stories.

Grades 1-3 / Ages 6-9.

Review by Harriet Zaidman.

*** /4

This is the story of Annie, a young Jewish girl who is attracted by the glitter and gifts that come with Christmas celebrations. She steals off to express her dreams secretly to an anonymous store Santa. To her surprise, the Santa is her grandfather's (zaida's) friend, a Jew also. Simon Greenbaum has taken this job because he is out of work, and he likes children. Because he is unsure of how his friends would react to this unusual employment, he agrees to keep Annie's secret if she will keep his.

internal art

     At home, Annie's family celebrates Chanukah, complete with hot potato latkes, slathered with sour cream. The children get the traditional small gifts of money ($2 from each relative!) and bet pennies on the dreydel. Annie confides in her cousins about Mr. Greenbaum's difficulties, and they all chip in from their Chanukah gelt to help out. When Annie goes to the store to deliver the gift, she discovers that Mr. Greenbaum has secured a position as a salesman in the store; he was a jovial Santa, but he always got the names of the reindeer wrong anyway.

     Yesterday's Santa is a warm story about acceptance of other customs, learning to hold on to one's own customs in a larger, different environment, and especially about learning to help others in need (tzedakah). Annie's desire to be "just like everyone else" is the experience of most children (and many adults) who belong to non-Christian cultural groups. Most people adjust, and most maintain their own traditions, with some adaptation in the giant North American melting pot. Simon Greenbaum does not abandon his traditions or his religion but is tolerant of others traditions and can survive among them. Annie has to learn not be jealous or distracted simply because she wants to belong.

Sarah Hartt-Snowbell's writing recalls a very typical family setting, but one that is disappearing as European immigrant Jews and the Yiddish language disappear. There are fewer and fewer zaidas who speak with the expressions (Vay iz mir!) and expressiveness that Mr. Greenbaum and Annie's zaida use:

"Hmmmm. Somewhere I think it's written that every question deserves an answer. Do you know what 'not working' means? That was me. Not working. So, to earn a few dollars to buy potatoes for latkes, I sit here in this fancy castle and make like a Santa Claus, which for me isn't too hard, because I even have a real beard. See. And such a stomach, don't ask! So, you might say, I work as a Santa to bring home the bacon. Well, not exactly, but, you know what I mean."

     The book begins with an explanation about Chanukah. It concludes with a glossary to explain the Yiddish words found throughout the text, a good recipe for potato latkes (very similar to the one this reviewer uses), precise instructions and diagrams on how to create origami dreydels for spinning or decoration, and instructions on how to play the dreydel game. The art by Patty Gallinger is detailed and done in deep tones to create a warm setting. What is especially pleasing about these drawings is that they present a very typical family in a very typical home. Readers will be able to identify with Annie, her parents and cousins, even though the illustrations face complete pages of text, atypical for a picture book.

     Yesterday's Santa will be a welcome story to read during the holiday season when cultures should co-exist, but often seem to collide.


Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB., who enjoyed playing with dreydels and eating latkes with her extended family as a child. She makes latkes every year.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364