“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” ―
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Can anything be more heartwarming than snuggling on the couch in front of the fire or Christmas tree, sharing a treasured Christmas tale with your kiddos? Fall hasn't entirely departed, here, but we've already pulled out the Christmas music and decorated our little tree (much to the chagrin of certain family members who follow a more “proper” timeline...sorry, guys! Actually, not sorry. 😉 )
When searching for Christmas literature to share with my children, I noticed something curious: most of the stories marketed during the Christmas season have nothing at all to do with Christ, either explicitly or by way of inference. Now, I fully recognize that many beautiful tales relay elements intrinsic to the Christian faith such as love, sacrifice, and fellowship without directly recounting the birth of Christ. Certainly, every book taken off the shelf in December isn't required to mention Christmas. Nevertheless, it was quite a task to locate as many Christmas stories as I've listed, below! This is one of the reasons I'm so grateful we've adopted a simple Advent celebration into our family's Christmastime routine. (Suggestions below 🙂 )
Recognizing the diversity in readers' Christmastime traditions, the following list is compiled by category for easier perusal. Please share YOUR family's favorite Christmastime reads in the comments, below!
Lovely winter-themed stories:
Christmas-themed stories, not specifically about the Nativity:
The Christmas Carol – Purists will obviously adopt Dickens' original masterpiece (with illustrations by John Leech), but for those who would like a slight but still reverent update in art, there is an edition illustrated by Maria Berg (pictured at left). Dover offers a fun coloring book (pictured left) to occupy young artists during read-aloud time. Don't be a Scrooge and omit this story from your Christmas smorgasbord!
Where Love is, There God is Also, more commonly known as Martin the Cobbler (Leo Tolstoy) – A lonely cobbler turns his back on everyone and everything – even his best friends at Christmastime. But a mysterious customer's gift and a strange dream lead Martin to discover the presence and love of God in his life, as well as the love he himself has to share with those around him. Also produced in a clay-mation edition (pictured at left) in 1977 and re-released on DVD in 2005, narrated by Tolstoy's daughter, Alexandra. You can still find this gem floating around the Internet; snag it when you do!
Gift of the Magi (O. Henry/Lynch) – O. Henry's endearing classic on love and sacrifice is now available in an edition illustrated by P.J. Lynch (the artist who decadently adorned When Jessie Came Across the Sea).
Uncle Vova's Tree (Polacco) – This warm Polacco story beautifully depict the precious inter-generational ties that are so dear to Polacco's heart – and to all of us who love Polacco's reminisces. It also tenderly addresses the loss of a loved one and the interweaving of pain and joy as that one is simultaneously missed and commemorated during the holidays.
Christmas Tapestry (Polacco) – You most likely will not make it through this Polacco offering without utilizing your box of tissues – several times. While Polacco refrains from explicit religious wording in her explanation of the extraordinary events in this story, it is clear that nothing about the events that unfolded therein was accidental. But for those of us who reflect on the Great Weaver's work, that comes as no surprise. 🙂
Story of St. Nicholas – More than Reindeer and a Red Suit (Odden/Palavicini) – If you or your child have ever wondered about the real “St. Nick”, this bright and easy-to-follow storybook is for you. Nicholas of Myra's story is far more exciting than a trip down a chimney, and an inspiration to love and give and give as Nicholas did...because Christ loved us first. (1 John 4:19)
Books specifically referencing the Christmas Story:
Jesus Storybook Bible (Lloyd-Jones/Jago) – This is by far my favorite children's Bible. The theology is so sound, and yet so accessible, other children's Bibles pale in comparison. Yes, my dear fellow art snobs, the illustrations are definitely not “traditional”, but Jago has one-upped Raphael by depicting people from the Middle East with more accurate skin tones. 😉 For Christmas readings, you can start in the New Testament portion of the book, or pick up the new edition specifically curated for Christmas (pictured at left), The Jesus Storybook Bible Christmas Collection, which includes songs, reflections, and an entire Advent journey for your family. (I haven't personally looked through this collection as it is currently out of print in the USA, but if you already own the Bible storybook, your kids might really enjoy this!) Speaking of Advent...
A word to the overwhelmed: don't be intimidated by the word “Advent.” If you've never celebrated Advent as a family but would like to incorporate a meaningful, true-story-of-Christmas element into your family's routine this year, you can 🙂 Believe me, if this non-”crafty” mama can swing an Advent celebration, ANYONE can do it. 😉
Jotham's Journey (Ytreeide) – If the idea of extra “stuff” sounds too much this year, check out this historical fiction journey, arranged for you in nightly read-aloud segments. An exciting tapestry of the history of Ancient Israel at the time of the Roman occupation, introduction to Scriptural prophecy, and heart-pounding adventure that follows a young Jewish shepherd boy in the weeks leading up to the birth of Christ. NOTE: The narrative includes several run-ins with a vicious highway brigand as well as an accidental tomb visit which may be too intense for the youngest listeners. Nothing was anywhere near “graphic” by today's standards, but I suggest you preview it and decide for yourself what is best for your family. We'll likely read this solo with our 7-year-old this year, after the younger two have enjoyed our family Advent time and gone to bed.
--- remember, if you're using any of the Thriftbooks links, to sign up for Reading Rewards here, first for a free book! ---
The Learning Erb's Jesse Tree – This is really simple and beautiful. The “journey” portion itself if mostly Scripture, conveniently arranged for you in nightly readings. Almost all are a page or less, making it short and sweet for little members. Included with the readings are corresponding suggested songs – including YouTube links, if you don't have music accompaniment available at home. This guide is extremely reasonable at only $5 for digital download. For $10, you can download both the guide and beautiful ornament label guides. If you can swing the ornament portion, these are so lovely, and our kids ADORED the corresponding ornaments that appeared with each nightly reading! NOTE: you will need to color print the ornament guides, but if you need to be super thrifty, you can simply color print them on normal paper, cut out the circles, punch a hole and hang them with string on your tree. If you can spare a little more for longevity's sake, start by having the labels printed on circle labels from Online Labels (be sure to select 2.25" size, wherever you buy them), and stick them on card-stock circles like these pre-cut ones or even wooden ornament circles like these (if you're using a backing, select 2.5" inch to allow room for the hole, and make sure you have at least 28 backings). They are really beautiful keepsake ornaments when assembled this way!
A Gentle + Classical Christmas – Be still, my heart. You guys, I LOVE anything Gentle + Classical. Way too much. (Gentle + Classical Press is a Charlotte Mason-inspired curriculum.) This year Erin released a BEAUTIFUL Advent study and the demand was SO GREAT, she entirely SOLD OUT of the first AND second printing in a matter of weeks!! (I think other mamas may be crushing on my crush.) But GOOD NEWS! The digital option is still available on special sale this week. 🙂 You can download this INSTANTLY upon purchase. **UPDATE** 04/2022: Gentle + Classical Christmas is back in stock in the Shop! Use this link here to get a $5 coupon and get your Advent study ready ahead of the curve!