Annapolis Institute Overview


Story-telling great Christmas tradition

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, December 21, 1995

Three years ago, while standing in line to pay for Christmas decorations at a local nursery, a book calledChristmas in My Heart: A Treasury of Old-Fashioned Christmas Stories caught my eye. The book was compiled and edited by Joe Wheeler, chair of the English Department at Maryland’s Columbia Union College.

I have always liked stories – the written kind and the kind that friends and relatives tell, usually at Thanksgiving or Christmas, the two times when many families still get together and tell stories. Stories are important for a family because they convey knowledge, create heroes and role models, instill values and provide shared experiences and occasions for laughing or serious talk among members of a family. A story-teller can never have too many stories, so Wheeler’s book, with a collection of the written kind, caught my attention.

“Of all the times in the year when sentiment prevails, none exceeds Christmas,” says Wheeler. Christmas is also a time — and for many, unfortunately, the only time — when people set aside TY radio, videos, liquor, drugs and sports to focus on the importance of family and God in our lives, a time when there is a “melodious interplay” of love, caring, laughter, tears, forgiveness, empathy; healing and, often, loneliness, especially for those who are, as Wheeler says, “refugees from death or separation.”

These words compelled me to buy Wheeler’s book. Great Christmas stories, Wheeler says, have the power to make you laugh or cry, the power to uplift your spirit, the power to radically change our behavior so that you may begin a new life.

For those who like to tell stories at Christmas, you can never have too many stories in your arsenal, so it seemed like a good purchase. Well, it was a good purchase, a conclusion many others have also reached as Review and Herald Publishing in Hagerstown, Maryland is now publishing the fourth volume of Joe Wheeler’s “Christmas in My Heart” — a new collection of 18 wonderful Christmas stories.

The most recent volume also includes a preface that tells us about how Louis Prang “invented” the multicolored Christmas card, which was the hit of the Christmas season in 1875; how the German city of Strasbourg sported the first Christmas tree in 1604 — though it was common before that time to bring fruit trees indoors with the hope they would bloom during the Christmas season; about the Christian origins of Santa Claus.

And how, on Christmas Eve of 1818 a priest named Josef Mohr and his organist Franz Guber combined to play and sing for the first time “Silent Night,” perhaps the most enduring of Christmas carols. Since that first introduction to Joe Wheeler’s Christmas stories, Joe Wheeler has also become a good friend.

Wheeler, it turns out, is also the executive director of the Zane Grey Society, publisher and editor of “Zane Grey’s West,” and a student of the importance of stories and story-tellers in our culture. We are all indebted to the like of Joe Wheeler because, in the words of poet Cynthia Pearl Mau, “You may have tangible wealth untold Casket of jewels and coffer of gold./ But richer than I you could never be;/ I know someone who told stories to me.”

As Christmas approaches, it is time to get this year’s stories lined up — and for the written kind, you can’t do much better than Joe Wheeler’s fine collection that reminds us of the love and caring and hope that Christmas — and life — are all about.

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