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Tender Tales of the Holiday

November 26, 1987|ROSELLE M. LEWIS

Seven Stories of Christmas Love by Leo Buscaglia; illustrated by Tom Newsom (William Morrow/Slack Inc.: $12.95).

Columnist, lecturer and TV social philosopher Leo Buscaglia is a man you love to love. His warm homilies seem particularly apt during Christmas, and these seven personal "miracles" of faith, hope and charity will have wide appeal.

The first details a Christmas of a 7-year-old whose large, gregarious Italian family then lived in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles. Leo was considered a "brat" and misbehaved in minor ways. Therefore, Mama made sure his stocking was empty, while those of his siblings were filled with loot. Though this punishment seems incommensurate with the "crime," Leo meekly accepted Mama's explanation that the Christmas Angel had failed to provide because: "We will always get what we deserve. We can't escape it."

Another story recounts a joint celebration of Hanukkah and Christmas with a rabbi's family, when the Depression-poor Buscaglias bought kosher food for a shared feast. Still another Dec. 25 found the author in Bali, where he tried to explain why Mary and Joseph found no room at the inn, much to the hospitable natives' incredulity. And in "The Christmas That Almost Wasn't," Buscaglia recalls spending the holiday hospitalized after a massive heart attack.

But the most endearing and hilarious remembrance of Christmas past details how the author, then an elementary school teacher, put on a Stanislavski version of the Nativity. Every child got a part, if only as pigs, goats or cows. Chosen to play Joseph, one tall student, who found math and reading mysterious, forgot his lines and extemporized: "Mary, wake up and see what you had in the night!" he shouted to the initially shocked but soon delighted audience. Tom Newsom's handsome paintings, several depicting Buscaglia, introduce each story in this tender book that reminds us again of "goodness and the wonder of life."

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