New UVA Library exhibition celebrates the Christmas spirit

By Molly Minturn | December 20, 2022

For I’ve grown a little leaner, grown a little colder
Grown a little sadder, grown a little older
And I need a little angel sitting on my shoulder
[We] need a little Christmas now

Exhibition poster reads “We Need a Little Christmas Now” and features vintage Christmas cards.
“We Need a Little Christmas Now” runs through mid-January 2023 in the Small Library’s First Floor Gallery.

The lyrics above were written nearly 60 years ago (for the Broadway musical “Mame”) but the words feel timely. After nearly three years of a global pandemic and a tragic semester on Grounds, the University of Virginia Library invites visitors to find a bit of joy in its new exhibition “We Need a Little Christmas Now,” on display in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library’s First Floor Gallery through late January 2023.

“As we navigate times that are anything but normal, this showcase’s purpose is to revivify the holiday spirit,” said Research Archivist Ervin “EJ” Jordan, who co-curated the exhibition with Reference Librarian Regina Rush. “We Need a Little Christmas Now” features nearly 100 objects from Special Collections and private collections, organized by seven themes: “A Dickens of a Christmas”; “Cards & Carols”; “Santa Claus, the Spirit of Christmas”; “Food, Glorious Food!”; “Home for the Holidays”; “Have Yourself a Mini Little Christmas”; and “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

Jordan and Rush have worked together on numerous Library exhibitions. At the height of the pandemic in December 2020, they partnered (on Zoom) to produce an online exhibition of “Four Festive Seasons,” which explored the history of the four annual winter festivals with similar secular and religious origins: HanukkahWinter SolsticeChristmas, and Kwanzaa. Other exhibition collaborations include “Everyday People” and “Sisterhood: Cultural Portraits of African American Women.”

Having explored the full range of winter celebrations in 2020, the two self-described “Christmasphile” co-curators decided to focus on their favorite holiday for this exhibition, sharing some of their personal treasures interspersed with the Library’s holiday collection highlights. Featured objects in “We Need a Little Christmas Now” include a 15th-century French Book of Hours nativity scene, an 1843 first edition of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” and a Christmas card from Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta, along with UVA-specific items, such as an 1832 UVA student resolution for a two-week holiday.

“Regina and E.J. are longtime partners in exhibition curation,” said Curator of University Library Exhibitions Holly Robertson, who designed “We Need a Little Christmas Now.” “They have an incredible working relationship in these curatorial endeavors — E.J. mines our archives for spectacular finds in the least suspected collections; Regina has an amazing depth of knowledge of local/regional history and its genealogical connections. Well known by their colleagues and friends as eager and learned ambassadors of the Christmas spirit, Regina and E.J. have amazing personal collections of holiday cheer and history.”

“We Need a Little Christmas Now” is free and open to the public through Wednesday, Dec. 21, and then will take a break along with the rest of the Library until Jan. 2. In the meantime, we hope all who celebrate will enjoy a little Christmas of their own.

Take a look at some featured objects from the exhibition below.

A vintage menu, white background, green and red text.
This 1945 U.S. Navy Christmas Day menu, served to the U.S. Naval Shore Patrol’s fifth Naval District in Norfolk Virginia, included a smorgasbord of holiday cuisine featuring “Roast Tom Turkey, Cranberry Sauce, Sage Dinner Dressing, Mince Pie, Fruit Cake” and last but not least: cigarettes! (Photo by Holly Robertson)


A black-and white Christmas card with a photo of Martin Luther King Jr., his wife Coretta, and children Yolanda, Martin III, Dexter and Bernice.
A Christmas card from Martin Luther King Jr. and his family that reads: “May the peace that passes understanding be with the families of mankind at this season and forever.” Atlanta, Georgia, ca. 1967.  (Photo by Holly Robertson)


An open glass exhibition case with an advent calendar, books, a portrait, and a small writing table inside.
​​​​The “A Dickens of a Christmas” section of the exhibition includes an 1843 first edition of “A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens’ portable writing desk and quill, and a watercolor portrait of Washington Irving, who extolled the virtues of the Christmas holiday in his own writing. (Photo by Holly Robertson)


Miniature books arranged on a small wooden stand to look like a Christmas tree.
The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library holds more than 15,000 miniature books, the second largest collection in the country. Included in the collection is a rich and festive assortment of Christmas-themed books. Titles include: “Christmas Carol Music Box” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” (Photo by Holly Robertson)


Seven figurines of Santa Claus of varying ethnicities and garments.
The International Santas Collection (of International Resources LLC, Northbrook, Illinois), from the private collection of Regina Rush. Featuring Santa figurines from Russia, Greece, Ghana, Thailand, China, and Costa Rica. (Photo by Holly Robertson)