Friday, December 11, 2009

Advent Calendar - The Christmas Book Tradition

In our house, very often the first Christmas decoration would be the Advent calendar, and this would signal my daughter to run to the bookshelf to grab all the Christmas books. We clean off the coffee table and pile them all up. We read them at night, often aloud to each other, right up until Christmas, or, as you might know, all the way up until January 6th (Twelfth Night? Epiphany? Three Kings Day? “Fiesta de los Reyes?”)

We’ve gathered quite a pile of Christmas books over the years, and I don’t think I’ve bought a single one of them. They’ve all been given as gifts, with a Christmas theme. You probably own some of them, too! Try putting them all in a pile by the Christmas tree, or by that big, comfy chair by the fireplace and see if you can start a new holiday tradition.

Some of our Christmas books are old, like a copy of Seuss’s “Grinch” from when I was a girl, as well as my old copy of the “Night before Christmas” which we always save for Christmas Eve. My grandmother had given me a picture book of Norman Vincent’s Peale’s nativity story, too, and I cherish it because she had carefully cut out an angel from a Christmas greeting card for a bookplate, and signed it “To Heather, from Grammy and Papa, 1968.”

There is one book that I could never read without weeping. It’s an illustrated version of Laura Ingalls Wilders’ tale of the night Mr. Edwards brought the Ingalls girls their gifts from Santa. This is the story of how he bravely crossed the prairie, and a raging flood, to bring them their simple gifts of a tin cup, a peppermint stick and a penny. Another weeper is the “Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry. I’m fogging up my glasses now just thinking about them!

Do you remember that “Gnomes” book from the 1980s? I’ve got one of the originals. “The Christmas Box” was a best seller in the 1990s. These are mingled with several versions of “Rudolph” and the “Nutcracker.” Up here in New Hampshire, our Tomi De Paola has made several Christmas picture books. The Befana story and “The Clown of God” are among his best holiday classics.

There are lots of classic children’s books in our pile. We have a picture book from my secret Santa at my college dorm- the illustrated version of the famous “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” complete with the background history of the newspaper editorial. We have an illustrated “Christmas Carol” by Dickens, and “The Polar Express” by Chris Van Allsburg. There is even “The Jolly Christmas Postman” pop up from when my daughter was a toddler, and a Narnia advent calendar we reuse every year. Both of these have survived years of little fingers opening doors and pulling tabs.

I’m a book lover, but I seldom reread most of my books. However, these books have been read and reread every winter for many, many years. The best part is turning off the TV and reading them aloud together. Some go back to my childhood, and others are modern classics. I’m sure that you remember every story I mentioned above, and my pile of Christmas books contains many more. I invite you to grab a Christmas book and start reading…

Copyright 2009, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. I love your post! It's been awhile since I've read a Christmas book, but it's past time! I need to find just the 'right' one to read to my grandchildren! I really enjoy reading your posts! Such good writing, and so informative.

  2. Thanks Sherry! I've embarrassed my daughter with this one! She's 22 years old now, but she still wants us to read the books aloud together at Christmas time. Her favorite is the "Night before Christmas".

  3. We did something similar. Each child would get a Christmas book on St. Nicholas' day. Over the years we gathered quite a collection. They come out every year with the Advent wreath and creche.

  4. We have quite a collection, too, Susan. I was sad when my daughter asked if she could take a few to her first apartment. But it was fun to visit her at her own place and hear her read "The Night Before Christmas" and to know we had passed a long a great tradition!

  5. This sounds like fun. I am an American by birth, but I probably don't know one Christmas story in its entirety (haven't even seen them on TV.) I know the basics. My husband told me yesterday Frosty had a magic hat. I had asked "does he melt in the end"? That should give you an idea. I can give you French and Latin folklore. Plenty of fables from Spain, but I'm lacking in my own birth country traditions.I do remember my father citing Twas a Night before Christmas. I need some of these children books. Off to library.

  6. I have a collection of Christmas books and I love to read them. This year I checked out two more from the library as well. My favorite book with family connections is A Christmas Dress for Ellen. The mailman, George Schow, is married to my great-grandfather's cousin from Denmark. I knew they moved to Canada but it was fun to get a glimpse of their life there.