First Christmas by Alastair Macdonald - A Classic is Born by Rev Michael Bresciani, Aug 2008
Not since "The Night before Christmas" has such a classic been offered to the world. The First Christmas will be enjoyed for generations to come. Twenty five years in the making and countless years of enjoyment for the reader, Alastair Macdonald's book will delight all ages.
A book review generally consists of a perusal of the writer's style, the story line and the flow and the viability of the subject matter. That would be nearly impossible with Alastair Macdonald's "First Christmas." Both the birth of Christ and the birth of Macdonald's book hold far too much for one brief review.
For Alastair Macdonald there would be no burning bush like the one Moses saw and there would be no blinding light such as the Apostle Paul experienced on the road to Damascus. All there would be is a "gentle nudge" between times and the knowledge that each barely perceptible nudge would lead him on a twenty five year course to write a single book that although very small would fill a huge chasm in the world. Every child and many adults will now have a bridge to cross from the ordinary events of the world to the extraordinary event that changed it forever.
British subject Alastair Macdonald resides on the glamorous and romantic Island of Bermuda. In 1985 he went looking for a simple rendition of the Bible's Christmas story to read to his two small children. Like most children Alastair's kids were fully enamored with all the extravagance of Christmas. Santa Claus, the gifts, the decorations and the ever present sounds of Christmas carols and hymns in the background kept his children bedazzled. But he wanted a book that would touch his children's hearts with the very heart of the Christmas story.
Upon arriving back home Alastair felt disappointed and spoke with his wife about it and the surprise he felt at discovering the appalling lack of material that would tell the real story of Christmas. In the midst of the despair came the nudge. The gentle God given push would send him down a path that over the next several decades would lead to the birth of "The First Christmas" and a poem that would take its place along side classics like "The Night Before Christmas."
In fact with "The Night Before Christmas" as his model he started out to find a way to tell the story. He wanted to engage classic poetic timing but apply some of the rhyming fun of Dr. Seuss. Accomplishing such a combination without sacrificing any of the dignity and seriousness of the birth of Christ would be no easy task. In the end he chose what is known as "anapestic tetrameter" for the rhythm in the poem. That rare fact takes nothing away from the simple flow of the narrative which will intrigue both child and adult.
Who would be the narrator of the story, this was the first challenge. Should it be Mary or Joseph, the obvious choices? With another gentle nudge Alastair decided on a narrator not so close to the story and one who would appeal to every child in the world, the donkey. The very donkey that helped Joseph in his daily carpentry work and finally carried Mary on her long journey to Bethlehem to give birth to the most powerful yet most humble human being to ever grace the planet earth. With a solid Old Testament name like Zeke from the Hebrew (Yechezqel) meaning "God strengthens" or better known by its English equivalent, "Ezekiel," the story would now begin.
Having never written poetry before Alastair labored in vain for a few years and never moved beyond the first verse. But the nudging of God persisted and each year he would pull out the poem and endeavor to write a few more lines. It became somewhat of a joke in the Macdonald household and each year his children would again remark "Dad's writing his poem again."
Using rhyming dictionaries would prove lumbering and inhibiting until Alastair found an online rhyming dictionary. Inspiration is kinetic and the instant comparisons an online dictionary provided would also make the difference. Now the research could keep up with the nudges and the narrative would emerge. The story began to blossom and in a matter of only weeks started to bust out into a full fledged poem.
All through the many edits and revisions another portent was looming, who would publish the poem. Getting poetry published has more setbacks than anyone could imagine. To begin most publishers won't take a work from an author who is not already published nor has an agent. Over the transom (randomly submitted) works are like casting your bread upon the waters only much less productive. The unsolicited manuscript may never be reviewed at all or even returned if it is not wanted. A simple acknowledgement from a traditional publisher can take from three months to a year. Few publishers are interested in a book with a religious theme especially one with such a well known and often repeated theme such as the birth of Christ.
Even while making a few submissions Alastair was undaunted and began a quest to find an illustrator for the book. This too would become a protracted effort but the giver of Alastair's nudges was nudging someone else a world away to help with The First Christmas. Macdonald ignored the fact that most publishers like to choose their own illustrators and the end product is that we can be glad that he did.
Alastair's daughter, an accomplished artist, tried to help her dad with some illustrations in the style of the thirteenth century Italian mural artist Giotto. Feeling that the renderings of the characters looked too cartoonish left Alastair nearly in despair. With nothing left to lose he put the word "nativity" into an internet search engine and clicked. Over a half million images and days of searching and then one single artist caught Alastair's eye.
The art of Egyptian born Adel Nassief leaped from the screen into Alastair's vision for The First Christmas and he knew he had found the right illustrator. Nassief, a Coptic Christian from Alexandria Egypt made his living painting and creating Coptic murals for Orthodox churches around the world. Much of his work is done in bright tempura paint and gold leaf. With communications limited to only emails Alastair and Adel came to an agreement. He would produce some twenty pictures in the traditional manner with tempura and gold leaf on wooden boards.
Communicating only by emails and photos Alastair had never actually seen Adel's original work until Adel had deliver some pictures to a Coptic Church in Dallas Texas. Since the writer has an apartment in Dallas they arranged for the originals to be included in a container bound for the Dallas church. Alastair said he was "blown away" when he first set eyes on the original art pieces. Adel had "outdone himself and every expectation Alastair ever had of him!
Now with both the pictures and the poem he made a mock book and began distributing it to various publishers. The responses improved but still no one wanted a seasonal book. Back to square one.
In 2007 Alastair approached Welcome Books, a publisher of picture books but mostly for adults. Not having heard from them he had a chance to visit their publishing house while returning from holiday and staying overnight in a New York hotel right near Welcome's office. After meeting with Lena Tabori the principle of Welcome Books and a general perusal by a ninety year old artist who was present at the meeting the wheels were in motion. In a short time another meeting was scheduled in which plans were finalized and the rest is history.
From simple nudges to the convergence of author, poetry, Coptic artist, experienced publisher and 25 years of being persistent, something has been born. It is the birth of something that is about the birth of someone. The birth of Jesus Christ has changed our world irreversibly and now the birth of Alastair Macdonald's "The First Christmas" will be a part in that change going onward until the end of time. Until the end of time the "good news" will always be broadcast and now Alastair Macdonald and Zeke will always have a part in the telling of the wonderful news first proclaimed by angels.
"And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10, 11)
More information about "First Christmas"
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