ST. GEORGE — A granddaughter’s concern that Santa Claus wouldn’t be able to find her while visiting her grandfather has launched the latest Christmas book from a Southern Utah author.

“A Christmas Journey” book signing at Buck’s Ace Hardware in Santa Clara with (L-R) Lyman Hafen, his wife Debbie and illustrator Ester West, Santa Clara, Utah, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Lyman Hafen, St. George News

Lyman Hafen remembers similar feelings he experienced as a young boy. And the grandfather’s comforting words to his grandchild several years ago have morphed into “A Christmas Journey” this year.

“A few years ago, when my granddaughter was younger and they came from Boston, she was concerned. And I remembered that same concern when I was a little kid,” Hafen said. “My parents were always very careful about making Christmas magic. I love parents who do that. I think it’s so awesome. And you get that Santa Claus is not real, but if we grew up with that, we also know he is real.”

Hafen said Santa Claus’ spirit is real and passed on from generation to generation.

“I’m not embarrassed at all admitting or saying that I believe in Santa Claus,” he said.

Hafen said the book is very relatable for readers. The artwork comes from his longtime collaborator Esther West, a well-known Southern Utah artist and painter. She digitally created this book’s illustrations by drawing them into a computer. West hand-painted the illustrations directly onto paper in the other books they worked on together in the past.

In the book, young Hafen asks his parents in despair, “Oh no, how will Santa know where to find me?” So the grandpa tells this story to his granddaughter, who has that same concern.

The young boy writes a letter to Santa, hoping he’ll receive it in time for Christmas, but he’s worried it won’t arrive in time. In the letter, young Hafen tells Santa where he will be and explains all the back roads he has to take traveling with his family to his grandparents’ home, which seems so far from St. George.

Lyman Hafen, author of the holiday book “A Christmas Journey” with his granddaughter Grace who inspired the book, location and date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Lyman Hafen, St. George News

Geographically, it’s vague in the book. Still, it’s from Hafen’s childhood of traveling from St. George, Utah, to the Four Corners area. It showcases traveling across the canyons, valleys, and mountains. It mentions Monument Valley and the old Navajo Bridge.

“They leave early in the morning and make the trip; on the journey, he’s concerned all the way along. How will Santa Claus find him as he gets farther and farther from home?” Hafen said. “He falls asleep and dreams about being concerned.”

Hafen said driving through the landscape as a child was mythical since, in the winter, the vivid red sandstone was usually lightly dusted in white.

“So pretty; it was awesome,” he said.

The family wouldn’t get to their grandmother’s house until after dark.

“I remember driving all the way to Tuba City, Arizona, and then back up through to Blanding. In those days, a lot of it was dirt road. We didn’t have these nice roads that we have now,” Hafen said.

He fondly remembers his grandmother living in a beautiful gabled home. Hafen remembers sleeping upstairs, and there was an old Victrola and chess set.

“So the book shares that story of the Christmas journey of Grandpa when he was a little boy and he’s reinforcing that for his granddaughter,” Hafen said. “And then we come back to Grandpa and Grace, the granddaughter.”

An interesting feature of the book is that the artist chose to represent the grandfather’s boyhood days in a sepia tone, but the “present” events involving the granddaughter are classic bright Christmas colors.

Hafen’s granddaughter Grace is his daughter’s child. Her parents are Julie and Ricky Valadez. Hafen is grateful they have moved from Boston to Southern Utah.

“It’s tying Christmas in with what Christmas really is,” Hafen said. “And that whole idea of the farm set and the manger with the farm set. And then Grace makes that connection. She’s looking at the nativity pieces in Grandpa’s living room. Then, she makes the connection of bringing the baby Jesus from the modern nativity and placing it in Grandpa’s old toys.”

Grandpa still has that old farm set and he lays it out almost like a nativity in his home. And Grace makes that connection at the end of bringing the actual nativity into the more Santa Claus kind of Christmas that her grandpa remembers.

“A Christmas Journey” is the third holiday book Hafen has written. The other books were “A Snowball’s Chance, Dreaming of a White Christmas” and “Ohh Christmas tree.” West has illustrated all of the books.

“A Christmas Journey” is available at Desert Book in St. George and Buck’s Ace Hardware in Santa Clara. Orders are also being taken on Hafen’s website. He is also the author of a dozen books connecting landscape and story. Hafen was the executive director of the Zion National Park Forever Project. 

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