I’m a Southerner, through and through. Although I spent many years in New Orleans, New York and Los Angeles, my roots and heritage in the South go back over many generations to 1685 when my family first settled in the “low-country” and midlands of South Carolina. Because of this heritage, I feel a deep sense of connection with all people from the South as we share a bond that cannot be described in just a few sentences. We care about each other. We know each other’s families and extended families for generations; and for the most part — we in fact are each other’s families.
In the South, the Christmas holidays are something special to us — a time of reconnecting to share in each other’s joys and hopes; to honor each other’s lives and experiences; and to be extra kind to each other out of respect, if not admiration.
So I want to share with you two Christmas Books that will foster empathy, compassion and love — for our collective people, our culture, our heritage and our rock-solid belief that we are all God’s children, whomever your God is, and we all share similar values in the telling of the story of Christmas.
“Gullah Night Before Christmas” by Virginia Mixson Geraty and illustrated by James Rice tells the story of the “Night before Christmas” as a parody with Buh Rabbit playing the role of Santa Claus and Buh Fox playing the role of the “Grinch.” Traveling through a coastal South Carolina town, Buh Rabbit delivers his presents to all of the good boys and girls. Santa never contends with a villain as he makes his rounds, yet, following Gullah tradition, Buh Fox has his mouth set on rabbit for dinner and his eyes set on the presents. The result is an action-filled Christmas Eve that children will never forget.
Written in Gullah dialect, this beautiful story has the singsong cadence and rhythm of a poem, and even though the phrasing can be difficult for adults to understand, children seem to grasp the meanings of the contracted and colloquial words immediately.
Virginia Mixson Geraty is arguably the world’s foremost authority of Gullah. She served as Gullah consultant for the BBC, on the “Story of the English Language.” A noted Gullah translator, she is also a Gullah instructor at the College of Charleston, where she received her doctorate in humane letters.
With more that one million copies of his books in print, James Rice ranks amongst the nation’s best-selling authors and illustrators. Through his countless school appearances across the country, the grandfather of seven teaches children the pleasures of writing and illustrating books.
“Ol’ Sandy Claw” was written by Mary Claire Pinkney, and is a graceful Gullah adaptation of Clement C. Moore’s poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” I must confess, that prior to this Pinckney publication in 1991, I had been told the story of “Ol’ Sandy Claw” as a legendary oral history since my childhood in the early 1950’s — with each telling having a slight and sometimes severe variation as the details were being embellished by the storyteller each time the tale was told. In “Ol’ Sandy Claw,” a Gullah family is gathered on Christmas Eve and they take turns telling the children present how both the birth of the Baby Jesus and a visit by the Ol’ Sandy Claw happen on the same night, each having a powerful significance and meaning — and the story is told in the pigeon-English of the Gullah dialect.
This book is out of print, but it is still available at select bookshops around the country. However, the last auction copy went for $125 in 2014, and with earlier translations of the story going for much much more.
Mary Claire Pinckney was born and grew up on Edisto Island, a forty-mile drive from historical Charleston, South Carolina. A Winthrop University Graduate, her childhood association with the Gullah culture inspired her numerous booklets associated with this dialect. Along with “Ol’ Sandy Claw,” Mary Claire Pinckney is a published author of several children’s books in the Gullah dialect including “Epaminondas, Jimbee: An Original Story Told in Gullah,” “Epaminondas: A Folk Tale Told in Gullah,” and “Dem Twelb Day: A Christmas Story In Gullah.”
I have to admit my bias — both of these books have a special place in my heart, not only because of the stories, but because of the romance of my Southern roots and the memories that they invoke of the best and sweetest times of my childhood.
Perhaps these books will enrich your family’s understanding of the Gullah heritage and the importance and influence of religion and faith in the Gullah community. It may also strengthen your own faith — whatever religion or belief system you may live by!
All items available at amazon.com. Click title or author for purchase.
Gullah Night Before Christmas
by Virginia M. Geraty and illustrated by James Rice
Joy: A Gullah Christmas Audio Recording
by Marlena Smalls and the Hallelujah Singers
Marie Claire Pinckney – books page
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