Collecting Tales of Christmas
November 25th, 2015 by Kris Capps
Joyce displays a small sample of her collection. She has more than 120 different versions of this Christmas favorite.

Joyce displays a small sample of her collection.
She has more than 120 different versions of this Christmas favorite.

Librarian Joyce McCombs loves all books. But she has a special love for one book in particular: “The Night Before Christmas.”
That is the book that introduced her to the magic of reading. Today, she has collected nearly 120 different versions of the iconic Christmas story, all with different illustrators.

The special collection occasionally makes its way into the community of Delta Junction, Alaska, for public display, but it is really just a personal collection she enjoys with her family and friends.
Joyce remembers being 4 years old when her grandmother read the story
to her.

“I remember liking the rhythm of the words, the cadence of the story,” she says. “Something clicked with me. Those funny squiggles on the page and beat of the words, that was reading!”

Joyce still owns that first book, which is in the shape of Santa Claus’ face.

Fast forward to high school.

She was in a Hallmark store and saw a little book of “The Night Before Christmas.” It cost $1.

“I’ll buy anything for $1,” she remembers thinking. “So I bought it.”

During the next three or four years, similar books of the same title showed up at the checkout stand. She then discovered “The Night Before Christmas” books went on sale after Christmas.

“Pretty soon, I probably had a dozen books,” says Joyce.

She always loved antiques, so she soon found a vintage version of the story.

Every year, Joyce bought at least one “The Night Before Christmas” book. Thus, her collection began.

She finds them on Ebay and even at garage sales. But she doesn’t buy all of them.

“I’m pretty picky,” she says. “They have to talk to me.”

For one thing, the Santa has to appeal to her.

“I am really particular about Santa,” says Joyce. “No low-carb Santas. He has to be jolly.”

The books vary. One is a glow-in-the-dark book. Another is a pop-up book. You can shine a flashlight through one book and see shadows on the wall. Some books are teeny-tiny. Another has a ribbon bookmark with a brass stocking at the end. One of her books is illustrated by the famous painter Grandma Moses. Another tells the story in sign language.

Some of the books are different shapes: a triangular book, a carousel book, and one that opens up and ties in the back to stand on its own.

“As I have been collecting, the world of these books has been expanding,” says Joyce. “Now, they are interactive. They are really works of art, especially the pop-up books,” she says. “The paper engineering is so intricate. It’s such a specialized skill.”

More than 20 years ago, Joyce started displaying the collection in her home during the holidays.

“I only see it once a year, so I never get tired of it,” she says. “It takes a whole day to look through them. They’re like old friends.”

Now, Joyce keeps track of when she buys them.

Last year was the first time she showed some of the books publicly, through the Delta Imagination Library. Some of the books are fragile, so she put them in a display case.

“I don’t mind showing them, but I like to keep them intact,” Joyce says.

“This is an inexpensive hobby because I probably don’t even spend $50 a year.”

A book becomes valuable if there is a low press run or if an author signs it. But for Joyce, these books are valuable for other reasons.

“Especially if someone gave it to me,” she says. “That is really precious.”

She never tires of sharing “The Night Before Christmas” with children at the Delta Community Library.

“I have never had a kid not tune in,” she says. “The magic is in that story, the way that iambic pentameter goes.”

An added bonus in Delta Junction at Christmas time: Santa Claus often visits the library just as Joyce finishes reading the book.

“It’s the best moment,” she says.