It's Christmastime in Chicago

It's Christmastime in Chicago
Street musician Ron Shelton plays Sleigh Bells Ring and other seasonal melodies in front of Macy's on a cold night on nearly empty State St. He is able to take a periodic break inside Macy's to warm himself and his sax, which freezes up. (Charles Osgood, Tribune photo)

I have seen a couple of little girls walk from a roller coaster at

Navy Pier

's Winter Wonderfest dizzy with delight; had a man on Michigan Avenue call me a "------ Scrooge" when I refused to give him "$42 dollars so I can have train fare to visit my sick mother in


" and, 20 minutes later, was referred to as "my own special

Santa Claus

" by a woman who asked for and got from me "$2 so I can get something to eat". I petted a dog who was wearing tiny reindeer antlers and red (on his front paws) and green (back) little boots; watched a Salvation Army bell ringer ignore the 6-year-old girl trying to stuff a dollar in his plastic kettle while he hit on a woman carrying a stuffed cat and a humidifier; eaten about 1,334 cookies (and counting), all manner of candies and chocolate-covered pretzels, and consumed many drinks (and counting); and ogled the windows at the store formerly known as

Marshall Field

'sI know that awaiting me are more adventures, sights, food and booze, and memories.

It is





As is one of my sad and stress-inducing traditions, I have yet to buy any presents, but one of them I am sure will be "Christmas in


: A Collection of Holiday Memories, Recipes and Images," a lovely book edited (compiled might be a more accurate word) by James Ballowe, a professor emeritus at


University, now living in Ottawa.

His introduction is short and masterful and begins with what was for me a revelation: Christmas was not an official national holiday until 1870, when President (and Galena resident for a time)

Ulysses S. Grant

signed the resolution making it so.

The book contains

Mike Royko

's famous retelling of the Mary and Joseph story; Tribune colleagues

Eric Zorn


Mary Schmich

writing about their annual "Songs of Good Cheer" concerts at the

Old Town School of Folk Music

; a

Carl Sandburg

poem and an excerpt from Gwendolyn Brooks' novel "Maud Martha."

That book was set in Chicago's


neighborhood, but there are plenty of other places visited, such as Kaskaskia, Rockford, Nauvoo, Shawneetown, and Peoria.

The recipe section I could well have skipped, not being able to boil an egg, but I was intrigued by its Thumb Print Cookies, Yugoslav Nut Crescents and Larded Grouse. Maybe Osgood, rather proficient in the kitchen, will make one of these items for me.

The many photos that pepper the pages are interesting and evocative. Especially so is one of a 1968 State Street parade float: The Cratchit's Christmas Dinner, brought to life by the Slotkowski Sausage Co.

There are letters to Santa here too, written by the kids of Vermillion County in 1909. A little boy named Bernie Robert Britt wrote, "I have been sick ever since the thirteenth of August and am partly crippled yet. If you have any presents for me please bring them. I will be glad of anything you bring."

Or dip into a story provocatively titled "Too Much Spirit: Christmas of 1860 Featured Sleigh Accidents, Brawl, Shooting."

The book is a joy to read and might give you some ideas about new traditions you might start. It will certainly remind you that the meaning of this season has not always been tied to the number of gifts you give or get.

And so … merry, happy and all that jazz.