"Deftly written by Karen Cecil Smith and appropriately illustrated by Bebe Phipps, "An Old Salem Christmas, 1840" is the story of a young girl who attends a Moravian Lovefeast in celebration of Christmas back in 1840. As part of the celebration she joins a candlelight service of sacred music and texts and afterwards savors a sweet bun and a cup of milky coffee. A Protestant Christian sect, the Moravians had their own distinctive traditions which author Karen Smith has faithfully portrayed in "An Old Salem Christmas, 1840", making it a highly recommended picture book for young readers and a welcome addition to school and community library collections"
From the Thomasville Times:
Something about the Moravian culture spoke to Karen Cecil Smith, something about the simple faith with a grand dream — and a tasty Christmas tradition — embedded in modern-day Winston-Salem and encased within Old Salem Museum and Gardens that drew her closer.
A sect of Protestantism that originated in what is now the Czech Republic, the Moravian Church migrated from its first permanent North American settlement in Bethlehem, Penn., to found the city of Salem, N.C., in 1766. The restored Salem village, reviving some of that culture of old, is part of Old Salem Museums and Gardens and borders Salem College, which Smith attended.
The memories of the Moravian influence clung with Smith throughout her life, so much so that when she decided to pen her first children’s book, she molded a member of the faith as her heroine.
“I’ve always loved Old Salem, and I love the Moravian traditions,” said Smith, who now lives in High Point. “It’s just part of the whole Winston-Salem culture. I wanted to write a children’s picture book about Christmas that reflected the true meaning of Christmas while throwing in some historical information about the Moravians.”
The book, titled “An Old Salem Christmas, 1840,” depicts the faith’s Christmas traditions from a child’s perspective. From decorating cookies to attending the famous Moravian Christmas Eve Lovefeast celebration, the little girl walks through her community’s celebration of the holiday while exploring the season’s true meaning.
“Christmas has become so commercialized,” Smith said. “I think a lot of people have lost sight of what it really means, the birth of Jesus, and it’s not just Santa Claus and food and that sort of thing. I did include those things in the book — presents and what children look forward to at Christmas — but I wanted it to have a message.”
Released in December 2008, the book was illustrated by Bebe Phipps and received the North Carolina Historical Society’s Clark Cox Historical Fiction Award. Smith worked hard to keep the story light enough for her 4-year-old to 8-year-old audience while still working in historical details such as the Moravian candle-lit vigil and traditional snacks of sweet buns and coffee served at the Lovefeast.
“I just had to really think about it,” Smith said of keeping her tone childlike. “I didn’t have a child to ask, so it took some time.”
But it was worth the effort. Smith says she has always dreamed of writing a book for younger readers, and that goal finally came to fruition.
“I’ve always been interested in writing and all genres, really,” she said. “I had played around with writing children’s books for a long time, since I was a kid. I love children’s books now, too.”
Smith first became a novelist in 1996 when research she was doing for a newspaper article on the famous midwife Orlean Puckett led to a wealth of first-hand accounts. A happen-stance meeting with one of Puckett’s relatives resulted in introductions with the woman’s many friends and neighbors.
“I started getting so much material that I knew I had enough for a book,” Smith said. “That’s what prompted the first book.”
Smith’s first published work, “Orlean Puckett: The Life of a Mountain Midwife,” was strictly a biography, following her pattern of passion for the past. The author is currently working on three other books, all with a historical tie.
“I love historical fiction and biographies, true stories,” Smith said. “Even if they’re fiction, I try to make sure all the historical facts are accurate.”