Review: The First Christmas Tree by Henry Van Dyke

The First Christmas Tree
The First Christmas Tree by Henry Van Dyke

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This would be a dull and unmemorable read if it wasn’t the beautiful and poetic language used throughout.

– You could read this book in under an hour
– The language and imagery are a stop-and-stare kind of brilliant
– If you’re interested in attitudes towards religion in the late nineteenth-century, this would be a useful read.

– The storyline is pretty flat and very preachy. There’s a good chance it’ll get on your nerves.
– The ‘non-Christians are all evil’ aspect of the book makes reading it from a 21st century standpoint pretty cringe-worthy.

It’s easy to see this book holding a lot more sway in the late 19th century when it was published. The heavily religious tone and all of the prejudice against non-Christians makes it a bit of a painful read (in a cringe-worthy way) when read from a 21st century perspective. That being said, it also makes this book a particularly interesting source for contemporary views on religion – especially when looking at its reception. It’s very short length comes in handy here as you don’t have to spend much time unpacking the writer’s agenda.

What really makes this book worth a brief look over is its language. Several times I found myself chewing over a particularly nice quote while writing it down in admiration. The imagery goes a long way in redeeming this book’s otherwise boring story, for example:

“Withered leaves still clung to the branches of the oak: torn and faded banners of the departed summer. The bright crimson of autumn had long since disappeared, bleached away by the storms and the cold. But to-night these tattered remnants of glory were red again: ancient bloodstains against the dark-blue sky.”

For this alone, I’d recommend it to anyone who is a bit of a language nerd and loves them some imagery. Though, don’t expect anything groundbreaking from the story.

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