The other night, I was in a gathering of women and the topic of favorite Christmas traditions came up. I wanted to pass on to you what I shared that night: in recent years, my family began a tradition with our favorite stories. We have raised our children with read-alouds, so this was a natural way to pay homage to that family culture — even though with mostly teenagers, we don’t get nearly the amount of read-aloud time that we once had!
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, each member of our family selects a Christmas-themed piece to read aloud. We are each responsible to spend some time with the piece — the reader should be familiar with the selection, enough to do a good reading. If there are voices, we’re encouraged to do voices!
Then, in the most informal way possible, we read our pieces to one another. There is no pre-selected order; we simply find little gaps of time on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in which to pause and listen to something. We commence with the Christmas account from Luke 2, and then progress to the others.
It sounds ridiculously simple, but it has been so nice to revisit these characters and settings each year. Like I told the ladies the other night, my seventeen-year-old son isn’t necessarily going to reread The Wind in the Willows every year, but he loves going back and watching the mouse choir appear on the doorstep.
Here are the selections we’ve enjoyed as a family — in the comments, please share more ideas!
In no particular order:
The Gift of the Magi by O.Henry (mom or dad fight over who gets to read this one)
“And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. …They are the magi.”
John Hendrix’ excellent book Shooting at the Stars. A recounting of the Christmas Eve truce of WWI. Since they were little, our boys have been captured by this true story of men who were shooting at one another one day and playing football together the next.
The arrival of Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. “‘I’ve come at last,’ said he. ‘She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.’ And Lucy felt running through her that deep shiver of gladness which you only get if you are being solemn and still.”
In the Dark Streets Shineth by David McCullough. A retelling of Winston Churchill’s visit with FDR for Christmas 1941, just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. From Churchill: “…these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world.”
The conclusion of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. If you haven’t read this hilarious little book about the Herdman family and how they upset a little town’s Christmas pageant in all the best ways, please put it on your list. “But as far as I’m concerned, Mary is always going to look a lot like Imogene Herdman — sort of nervous and bewildered, but ready to clobber anyone who laid a hand on her baby. And the Wise Men are always going to be Leroy and his brothers, bearing ham.”
Harry opens his gifts/the Hogwarts Christmas feast from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Who needs any prodding to get back to Hogwarts?! We love going back. “On Christmas Eve, Harry went to bed looking forward to the next day for the food and all the fun, but not expecting any presents at all. When he woke early the next morning, however, the first thing he saw was a small pile of packages at the foot of his bed.”
The visit of the field mouse choir in The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. This actually contains one of my favorite passages in the entire book: “He [Mole] did not at all want to abandon the new life, to turn his back on sun and air; the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must return. But it was good to think he had this to come back to, this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome.”
The opening of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, in which the sisters rally to have a Merry Christmas in spite of hard times. “’Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
‘It’s so dreadful to be poor!’ sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.
‘I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,’ added little Amy, with an injured sniff.
‘We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,’ said Beth contentedly from her corner.”
Last but not least, the conclusion of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. “‘I don’t know what to do!’ cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoon of himself with his stockings. “‘I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!'”
A NOTE: also, this is the time to drag out all the pretty illustrated versions of books you’ve been protecting. Just like the fine china, the pretty books are meant to be enjoyed.
AN ADDITIONAL NOTE: there are several anthologies in existence like this already. I recently bought The British Library’s A Children’s Literary Christmas, and we also own A Newbery Christmas.