Today is the sixth day in the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas. To celebrate, we’re running Clara’s Clarion-Ledger article about the ever-popular children’s book, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. Enjoy!
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski is not a new Christmas story, but it is one that I would like to revisit as it has been recently published in a new 20th anniversary edition.
Illustrations by P.J. Lynch have made this book the miraculous wonder that it is, and Lynch says the challenge of painting this story was “not to do with costumes or tools; it was to try to match, in my pictures, the deep emotional core of Susan’s story, to try to somehow show that might be going on inside a character’s head, or inside his heart.”
In what looks like Appalachia, Jonathan Toomey is the best wood carver in the valley. However, he doesn’t speak to anyone, and the village children call him “Mr. Gloomy.” He spends his days bent over his work, carving “beautiful shapes from blocks of pine and hickory and chestnut wood.” The reason for his gloom, the narrator tells us, is that some years ago, he lost his wife and child to sickness.
“So Jonathan Toomey had packed his belongings into a wagon and traveled till his tears stopped. He settled into a tiny house at the edge of a village to do his woodcarving.”
When the widow McDowell and her son Thomas knock on his door, asking Jonathan Toomey to carve them a nativity scene, he shuts the door, grumbling, “Christmas is pishposh.”
After a week, the widow McDowell and Thomas return to see what progress has been made on their manger scene, and Thomas sits at Mr. Toomey’s side, since he, too, wishes to be a woodcarver some day. However, he interrupts Mr. Toomey to tell him that he is carving the sheep wrong, that his sheep are happy sheep. “’That’s pishposh,’” said Mr. Toomey. ‘Sheep are sheep. They cannot look happy.’” To which Thomas replies, “Mine did…they knew they were with the Baby Jesus, so they were happy.”
With each visit to Mr. Toomey’s, and with each subsequent character being carved to fill the manger scene, Thomas continues to tell Mr. Toomey the right way to carve his figures: the cow is proud that the baby Jesus chose to be born in its barn, the angel looks like one of God’s most important angels because it was sent down to baby Jesus, the wise men are wearing their most wonderful robes, and Joseph leans over the baby Jesus protectively.
When Mr. Toomey asks Thomas how Mary and the baby Jesus should be carved, he says, “They were the most special of all…Jesus was smiling and reaching up to his mother, and Mary looked like she loved him very much.”
Jonathan Toomey completes his carvings on Christmas Day, and it is indeed a Christmas miracle. The widow McDowell and Thomas gave him a miracle by asking him to carve the nativity scene. Twenty years later, the deep human experience and the power of the Christmas story lives on in this book.
“And that day in the churchyard the village children saw Jonathan throw back his head, showing his eyes as clear blue as an August sky, and laugh. No one ever called him Mr. Gloomy again.”
Merry Christmas, everyone.