If one of your holiday traditions is gathering the family around for a good story, this is the season made for you. In addition to the tried and true gems from years past, check out the new titles sparkling on the bookshelves this year.

Thomas J. Davis' The Christmas Quilt glistens with the wisdom of childhood. It is a story of hope set in north Georgia's Smoky Hollow where, after an absence of more than 20 years, Uncle Joe writes Granny in June of 1942 that he'll be coming home for Christmas. Most of the family dismisses this as just another one of Joe's empty promises; all but Granny have lost hope of ever seeing Joe again. In the heat of a Georgia summer, Granny begins to piece together a quilt for Joe's Christmas. Within a few short months, the quilt is complete and the reader, having come to love this simple family, will understand the patterns of forgiveness that are such a central part of the story. It is the sense of family love despite family turmoil that makes this a perfect jewel to buy for yourself or to give as a gift.

Anyone who loves the songs of Christmas will enjoy Christmas Songs Made in America: Favorite Holiday Melodies and the Stories of Their Origins. Authors Albert and Shirley Menendez showcase the words and backgrounds of more than 40 seasonal songs that, though they have come to us from such diverse origins as Broadway and rock, Hollywood and religion, have the distinction of originating in America. The book is arranged so that you can enjoy an individual song and its story, a cluster of melodies focusing on one theme or a whole strand of songs. If the season doesn't really start for you until you've heard the first carol, add this volume to your shopping list and you'll know the story behind the tunes you're humming.

The Golden Ring: A Touching Christmas Story grew out of a story John Snyder's 89-year-old grandmother, Anna, told him about one of her own childhood Christmases. In retelling the tale, Snyder takes us back to the 1918 coal mining mountains of western Pennsylvania. The township of Myersdale is home to nine-year-old Anna and her five brothers and sisters. Anna's close relationship to her father grows even closer as they both begin having dreams that emphasize the giving and receiving of a ring. You'll follow Anna's family through their preparations for Christmas from cutting and trimming the tree to attending church and helping the less fortunate and come to understand why the ring means so much to her. The Golden Ring is not only a meaningful gift for those you love, but can also serve as a catalyst for giving and receiving your own family stories. What better package to place under the tree?

Joe Wheeler has earned the nickname literary Santa Claus for editing four popular story anthologies in his Christmas in My Heart series. His new volume, Christmas in My Soul, once again gathers stories that convey the holiday themes of inspiration, forgiveness and family love. In the introduction, Wheeler explains how the religious figure St. Nicholas evolved into the secular Santa Claus (Sinta Claes was the name given to the saint by New York's Dutch settlers) and concludes that every age and culture has reinvented the character of St. Nick. The six stories that follow are set in big cities and tiny hamlets. Some are humorous and some are heart-wrenching, but each conveys a sense of the miracle of Christmas. In The Invisible Christmas Trees, a World War II veteran journeys from his home in Maine to New York City with a load of Christmas trees, hoping to earn enough money to make his family's Christmas extra-special. When his truck and all the trees are stolen, the young man reclaims his dream with the help of an enigmatic woman. His story and the others collected in this slender volume, illustrated with period woodcuts, should help spread the magic of Christmas in any household.

Jamie Whitfield is a retired teacher in Nashville.


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