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Christmas at Home with Rita MacNeil

Reviewed: December 12, 2003
By: Rita McNeil
Publisher: Key Porter Books
115 pages and 1 CD, $29.95

Itís difficult to decide if this is a book with a CD enclosed or if it is a CD with the longest liner notes ever. I guess the lack of recording credits would tend to make me go for the former designation. The CD is called Late December, and itís an enjoyable mixture of seasonal tunes in an acoustic country/Celtic style. Rita does this sort of thing well.

The book is a celebration of Christmas. By all accounts this is an important season for her, and one can easily see why she would combine words, music and pictures in this kind of a celebration. The first half of the book focuses on her childhood memories of the season, including customs at her school, in the community of Big Pond, at her local Roman Catholic Church and at the family home. While she writes of memorable presents in this chapter, it is clear that the Christmas Dinner is at the center of her memories.

The remaining chapters, about half of the book, are concerned with how McNeil has tried to keep the seasonal customs alive in her family, in her various homes, through several generations of children and in her music. Her life moved from childhood comforts to young adult poverty and on to relative affluence over the years, but her goals remained the same: ďto recreate the old-time Christmases I remembered from my childhood.Ē

The book is filled out with some recipes, a few Christmas poems, lots of pictures (from Sydney to Big Pond to Louisbourg) and some little sidebar sections of various aspects of Cape Breton Christmas celebrations. It is a pleasant little package. If I had a quibble, it would be the lack of information connected to the CD. I always like to know who wrote the tunes and who played on them, and that information isnít there.

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