CHRISTMAS WITH THE KENNEDYS
Caroline Kennedy shares some of her family's most time-honored holiday traditions in A Family Christmas. After a brief introduction, and a reproduction of a letter Kennedy herself wrote to Santa from the White House in 1962, the book moves on to include dozens of musings on the season from authors, musicians and public figures. It encompasses the traditional (Irving Berlin songs, Bible verses, Robert Frost poems) as well as the surprising (who in the family is a Run-DMC fan?) and is beautifully illustrated in watercolor by award-winning artist Jon J. Muth, who also worked with Kennedy on her anthology A Family of Poems.

A Family Christmas is not quite as intimate as its title might imply the book includes few personal stories or anecdotes. But the solid selections easily stand on their own merit, and Kennedy's eclectic, erudite collection of poems, carols and stories is sure to become one that readers will return to year after year.

TRADITIONS AROUND THE WORLD
It's time to think about the whys behind the whats. Christmas Around the World, a beautiful pop-up book illustrated and engineered by Chuck Fischer, highlights the ways people worldwide (well, in Europe anyway, though there is a brief section on Latin America and the U.S.) celebrate the season. Dynamic 3-D spreads on Italy, Germany, France and Russia are complemented by pull-out books and fold-out flaps, where text by Anne Newgarden gives details on that region's unique holiday customs. Russia's pages are dominated by a large pop-up of their double-headed imperial eagle. The spread on France is particularly festive, with the white dome of Montmartre rising above charming cobblestone streets crossed with star-shaped garlands and filled with Parisian shoppers. Christmas Around the World is the perfect introduction to foreign customs for young children.

Meera Lester limits herself to investigating only 101 holiday customs in Why Does Santa Wear Red? . . . and 100 Other Christmas Curiosities Unwrapped. The 101 curiosities include songs, stories, craft ideas, pop-culture quizzes and recipes, in addition to solving the mystery of Santa's sartorial choices. Like Newgarden and Forbes, Lester shares European and American Christmas traditions, including more esoteric figures like France's Pre Fouttard (St. Nicholas' evil counterpart) and Italy's La Befana, who declined to accompany the Three Wise Men and has been looking for the Baby Jesus ever since. Not a book that's necessarily meant to be read from cover to cover, Why Does Santa Wear Red? is a portable size, making it easy to dip into whenever you have a moment to escape the holiday frenzy.

Christmas: A Candid History by Bruce David Forbes is a more in-depth look at Christmas customs and the reasons behind them. From the Puritans' ban on the holiday to today's Christmas culture wars, Forbes leaves no stone unturned, digging up every detail about the holiday in America. The result is an interesting book that is sure to make you the biggest Christmas know-it-all at the office party.

COOKING WITH SANTA
Everyone's favorite gift-giver has a taste for more than just Christmas cookies. In Santa's North Pole Cookbook, the jolly old elf shares Christmas recipes gleaned from his years of traveling around the world. More than 70 of Santa's favorites are presented here, as told to writer Jeff Guinn (The Autobiography of Santa Claus), and accompanied by stories from Santa and cooking tips from his personal North Pole chef, Lars.

CATCH HIM IF YOU CAN
At first it's not completely clear whether writer Bob Eckstein is making a serious attempt to find the first snowman in The History of the Snowman . . . until you reach the end of the first paragraph, that is, and realize you're off on a tongue-in-cheek look at the snowman in film, song, cartoons, advertising and literature throughout history. In the 1920s, for example, Frosty was a pickled, skirt-chasing, under-the-table lush who bore a striking resemblance to W.C. Fields ( Both started . . . parading crimson noses and enjoying prolific silent movie careers based on their reputations as charming drunks. ) before a short-lived rehabilitation in the 1960s. At the close of 20th century, the snowman endured the white trash years, appearing in (horrors!) a Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen movie, and playing the villain in abysmal slasher pics like 1996's Jack Frost. Eckstein does claim to have found the very first snowman, but we won't ruin the fun by revealing when and where.

AUTHORS FIND HOLIDAY INSPIRATION
Christmas stories can warm even the coldest of hearts. Perhaps that's why every year, another best-selling author joins the crowd of writers who release books with holiday themes. This year, memoirist and teacher Frank McCourt enters the ring with Angela and the Baby Jesus, illustrated by Loren Long. This story, set in 1912 Ireland and starring a six-year-old Angela (McCourt's mother, of Angela's Ashes fame), is an endearing fable that will delight both adults and children in fact, Scribner is publishing a large-format picture book edition for the younger set to read on their own.

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