Advent and Christmas with Tomie DePaola

For all things Advent and Christmas season, make your first stop this one. Here, you will find daily devotions, thoughtful essays, great ideas on traditions and books, tutorials, recipes, crafts, and a 45 minute podcast that will feed your soul and help you to take care of yourself this season. So go here first; then please enjoy all the books suggestions in this post. 

Making a list, checking it twice, copying and reducing covers, printing out memory work, gathering notebooking supplies... Here we go!

Making a list, checking it twice, copying and reducing covers, printing out memory work, gathering notebooking supplies... Here we go!

Here you go! Back by popular demand, this is the classic "how to homeschool" during December in our house. It's all here for almost all ages. Just add math:-).

An Integrated Literature Unit for Advent and Christmas

The following is an example of how to make living the liturgical year all you do for “school” for a season. This is an advent and Christmas unit. It was designed with the real limitations and demands of a large family in mind. It is not necessary to do everything. It is necessary to prayerfully discern what would best benefit your family. 

My favorite children's authors is Tomie de Paola (click here for his autobiography!). A Catholic of Irish-Italian descent, he is not afraid to wear his faith on his sleeve. He liberally sprinkles inferences to Mass, the saints, and even confession throughout basically secular books that can easily be found on public library shelves. In addition to many folktales from varied cultures, he has also written several well-researched, beautifully illustrated stories of saints. And he has enough advent and Christmas books to carry a family from the first Sunday in advent through Epiphany. Some of the books have gone out of print since the unit was first written, but some of those can be found in this anthology.

In Merry Christmas, Strega Nona, many children will recognize dear old "Grandma Witch" who begins preparing for her traditional Christmas Eve feast on the first Sunday of Advent. She staunchly refuses to use the magic she employs during the rest of the year, insisting that Christmas has a magic of its own. Big Anthony, her bumbling helper, has a Christmas surprise planned for the old lady and the entire town turns out to help him make the holiday a special one for her. 

Next in line is Country Angel Christmas. I introduced this one on the Feast of Saint Nicholas, December 6. There is definitely a sense of advent as a time of preparation as all the angels in heaven are preparing for the celestial Christmas celebration. The littlest angels are told to be scarce while the barn angels ready the animals for the procession, the kitchen angels bake, and the music angels rehearse carols. It is Saint Nicholas, in heaven where he belongs, who finds the littlest angels the all-important job of providing light for the celebration. This book works beautifully at the beginning of the season because, like Merry Christmas, Strega Nona, there is great emphasis on the preparation. 

December 12 is the feast of the Lady of Guadalupe and de Paola has an exquisite picture book by that name. The author is both a gifted artist and a superb storyteller. This is the story of the Aztec peasant Juan Diego, who sees our Lady as a pregnant Mexican woman and hears her tell him to build shrine in her honor. He must convince a skeptical bishop. Mary graciously provides a miraculous sign, captured beautifully in de Paola's pictures. 

Hispanic parishes always have a large picture of Our Lady of Guadelupe and carry it in procession on her feast day. True to his love of detail, de Paola depicts such a procession in The Legend of the Poinsettia. Lucida is little girl who is helping her mother weave a blanket for the Christmas crèche at church. When her mother suddenly falls seriously ill, the child tries to finish the blanket herself. She tangles it miserably and is bereft at the thought of having nothing to bring to the manger. An old woman mysteriously appears outside the church and suggests she carry a bundle of weeds inside. The picture of Lucida kneeling by the crèche, surrounded by glorious poinsettias, is guaranteed to inspire you to run out and buy many, many of these flowers to adorn your mangers at home. Both this book and The Lady of Guadelupe are available in Spanish. 

Closer to Christmas, The Clown of God is a lovely way to remind children that the greatest gift, indeed Christ's own gift, is the gift of self. A traveling juggler has spent his whole life making people laugh. Near the end of his days, he searches for the perfect present for Mary and the Infant. He learns and teaches a valuable lesson in giving. 

Following the clown theme, Jingle, the Christmas Clown, is an award winner not to be missed. Jingle is the youngest clown in the circus and the circus is traveling to the big city for its annual Christmas performance. Every year, the circus stops in a little village for Christmas Eve. This year, they arrive to find the village destitute. All of the young people have left; even the church is closed. The circus presses on, except for Jingle, the youngest clown, and the baby animals, who are too tired to travel. The little animals and Jingle put on a very special show for the old villagers. An angel appears amidst golden stars at the show's finale. The recipe for golden star cookies at the end of the book is a natural invitation to an afternoon of cookie baking and decorating.   

On January first, Mary, The Mother of Jesusis a logical choice. This book is lovely and quite different from the author’s typical children’s storybook or his saints’ stories. Mary’s life is depicted in fifteen beautifully illustrated segments. In his forward, Tomie de Paola writes, “When I was an art student in 1956, I saw the Giotto frescoes of the life of Mary in the Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy. I knew that some day, I would attempt my own visual version of Mary’s life. I have drawn on scripture, legend and tradition for the praise of Mary, the mother of Jesus.” 

Stretching beyond Christmas day and on to Epiphany, The Story of the Three Wise Kings, recounts the legend of the Wisemen. They travel to Bethlehem to pay homage to Jesus. Along the way, they encounter Herod and before their return, they are warned by an angel to travel a different route. 

Finally, The Legend of Old Befana must be told. Old Befana is a cranky old Italian woman who is too set in her ways to get up immediately to follow the Wisemen who are following the star to visit the Baby King. Because she sets out too late, she never catches up with the wise men's traveling party and so she searches still, leaving goodies outside the doors of children on the Feast of the Three Kings. "For, after all," says Old Befana, "I never know which child might be the Baby King of Bethlehem." Sounds like the beginning of a new tradition in our house. 

The First Week of Advent

Scripture Memory Verse: Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people form their sins. (Matthew 1:20)


Listen to or read Merry Christmas Strega Nona (de Paola) and narrate and illustrate.


Listen to or read The Country Angel Christmas (de Paola) and narrate and illustrate.

Reading Practice:

Early readers can read Merry Christmas Strega Nona and The Country Angel Christmas after hearing it read aloud.   If this is too challenging, have the child read from a clean, corrected, typewritten copy of his own narration of the story.

For more advanced readers:

The Littlest Angel (Tazewell)

For Older Children:

Wonderworker: The True Story of How Saint Nicholas Became Santa Claus

Just David (Porter)

To Read Aloud together:

26 Fairmount AvenueThis is Tomie de Paola’s autobiography.

Copywork and Studied Dictation:

For beginners:

Don’t think about what others have done.  Just be yourselves and you will make a fine Christmas.

For Level 2:

His halo was permanently tarnished where he held on to it with one hot, little, chubby hand when he ran, and he was always running. Furthermore, even when he stood very still, it never behaved as a halo should.  It was always slipping down over his right eye...

For Level 3:

The friends, the relatives, the adoring public, the mint of money--they are all David's now.  But once each year, man grown though he is, he picks up his violin and journeys to a little village far up among the hills.  There in a quiet kitchen he plays to an old man and an old woman; and always to himself he says that he is practicing against the time when, his violin at his chin and the bow drawn across the strings, he shall go to meet his father in the far-away land, and tell him of the beautiful world he has left.

Safe surfing while mom makes lists and checks them twice:  Go to Tomie de Paola’s website and spend some time there every week.  Kids can narrate about what they learned there.

And there is SO MUCH to learn and do at the Saint Nicholas Center.


Rabbit Trails for the whole family:

· Together, make a list of all the Advent activities your family does.  Compare the list with another family.  Are there any new traditions you would like to adopt?

· Write a family advent prayer.  Pray that this will be a special time to prepare for Jesus’ birthday

· Discuss the real hierarchy of angels.

· Help the child make puppets to dramatize Merry Christmas, Strega Nona.  Perform the show for family and friends on Christmas Day.

· Make apple star prints.  Cut an apple in half width-wise (surprise! there is a star inside) and use tempera to print the stars on paper.  Or print them on canvas bags or aprons with fabric paint and give as a Christmas gift.

· Make glitter glue stars to hang on the Christmas tree.  Draw stars in glue on wax paper.  Sprinkle with glitter.  When the glue dries, peel away the wax paper.  Use gold thread to hang.

·The country angels harnessed a star to shed light on the Christmas celebration.  During advent, we await Christ, who is the Light of the world.  Make an advent meditation candle to remind you throughout the season that it is Christ’s light that is a “light unto my path and a lamp unto my feet” (Psalm 119: 105).  Decorate a large pillar candle with colored beeswax cut into figures which represent biblical events from the time of Adam and Eve until Jesus’ birth.  (supplies are available from Hearthsong)

· Bake something that requires “peeling sifting, pouring and stirring” like the kitchen angels did.

Read The Baker's Dozen and make cookies using the cookie cutters available from St. Nicholas Center.

·  Make a traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner.  Throughout Italy, traditional dinners include twelve courses, in honor of the twelve apostles.  (See recipe box for ideas, including Big Anthony’s cod.)  This is a seafood dinner.  You can do this now or wait until it’s really Christmas Eve.

More rabbit trails for older children:

· Research Saint Nicholas.  Read how his legend evolved in Hark! A Christmas Sampler.The Real Story of the St. Nicholas Legend. Narrate a story a day from The Real St. Nicholas: Tales of Generosity from Around the World. Alternatively, read

· Find Turkey on the map.  What kind of country is it now?  Write or dictate a report on your findings. The Holy Father will be in Turkey this week, the week before St. Nicholas Day.  Have an older child follow the trip carefully and collect web reports and newspaper clippings.

·  Find Italy on the map.  Research Christmas traditions in Italy. Write or dictate a report on your findings.

·  Tomie de Paola has written several saint stories.  He doesn’t have one entitled The Story of Saint Nicholas.  Write and illustrate one.

Poet Study:

Read "Twas The Night Before Christmas" by Clement C. Moore, Matt Tavares (Illustrator). Read every day, slowly, memorizing the poem together.  This is the only poetry for the entire month.  Break copywork into small chunks.  Let children illustrate segments as they memorize.

Picture Study:

Discuss Tomie de Paola as an author and illustrator.  Read The Art Lesson by Tomie de Paola.  Choose a picture of Saint Nicholas from Country Angel Christmas to study. Discuss your Saint Nicholas choice, without looking at the print, round robin style, beginning with the youngest child. Copy the picture or give a detailed oral narration of it. Compare an icon of Saint Nicholas to dePaola’s drawing in Country Angel Christmas.  Draw your own picture of Saint Nicholas in any style you wish.

Science and Nature Study

· Don’t forget to get outside for a hike and don’t let it get swept away by the pressure of the season.  A brisk walk is a great stress-buster for mom and kids.  Look for natural materials to use as Christmas decorations.

· Decorate pinecones with glitter or sequins or wire them into a wreath.  Tie cinnamon sticks with red ribbon.  String popcorn and cranberries for outdoor trees to feed the birds.


Enjoy A Classical Kids Christmas

Tea Time Read Aloud

Saint’s biography:  St. Nicholas the Wonder Worker (Neuberger) or The Real St. Nicholas: Tales of Generosity from Around the World.

Jotham’s Journey (Ytreeide)  This is includes a daily reading for every day of Advent and Christmas Day.  It is an adventure story that can get intense at times.  Preview each selection and paraphrase if you think it necessary.  Not a bedtime story. This is out of print. Worth finding.

Advent and Christmas with Tomie de Paola and Others: Week 2

Scripture Memory Verse: And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.  For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

Luke 1: 46-49 Shorten as necessary.


Child will listen to or read The Legend of the Poinsettia and The Lady of Guadalupe and The Night of Las Posadas and narrate. 

Stories to Read:

The Lady of Guadalupe

The Night of Las Posadas

The Legend of the Poinsettia

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathon Toomey

The Christmas Tree (Salamon)

Read Aloud: A Christmas Carol. (Dickens). 


For beginners: May God be as good to you as he was to Juan Diego.

For middles: Juan Diego looked down.  His rough cactus-fiber tilma had been changed into a painting of the Lady just as he had last seen her at the foot of Tepeyac.

For the big kids:

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

Rabbit Trails for the whole family:

Read about Mexico.  Find it on the map and tell about the country today.  How is Christmas celebrated there?

Make Holiday Flan:

4 eggs

2 and one half cups milk

one half cup honey

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 to 2 tablespoons warmed honey or syrup


In a medium bowl, beat the eggs until foamy.  In a small saucepan, heat the milk and honey together just to simmering, then add the vanilla.

In a slow, thin stream, beat the milk mixture into the eggs.  Our the mixture into a buttered 9” layer cake pan or flan pan.  Place in a large, shallow pan or baking dish filled with hot water to a depth of one-half inch.  Bake at 325 degrees for thirty-five to forty minutes, or until the center is fairly firm.  Glaze with the honey.

Makes six servings

(from Joy to the World by Phyllis Vos Wezeman and Jude Dennis Fournier)

The creche is an important part of The Legend of the Poinsettia.  Where did the tradition of the manger scene begin?  Read about it in Francis, The Poor Man of Assisi by Tomie dePaola.

Make tissue paper flowers in red, white, and pink, traditional poinsettia colors.

Copy de Paola’s picture of Our Lady of Guadeloupe onto cardstock using magic markers.  Send it as a Christmas card.

Using felt, make a large banner of Our Lady like the one in the book.

Have a procession like the one in the book.  Gather up some friends to parade with you and have hot chocolate and cookies afterwards.

Make  Mexican Hot Chocolate for tea time.

Copy the recipe above and embellish the recipe card for your notebook.

Make a manger scene using old-fashioned clothespins, doll head beads and felt (all supplies are readily available in craft stores).

Make clothespin poinsettia ornaments (tutorial for this is in the Comfort & Joy Ebook)

Make rose pound cake.


Make a Juan Diego for your notebook. Copy the illustration of Jaun Diego twice.  Cut the tilma only out of one of the copies.  Copy the image of Our Lady.

Cut and glue the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the full copy of Juan Diego. Tape the bottom of the tilma-only copy to the Juan Diego. Stick rose stickers to the inside so that when it falls open, you see roses. 

If there is a baby in the house, make a ceremony of letting each child trace a cross on her forehead and say, “May God be as good to you as he was to Juan Diego.”

Make a grotto for Our Lady of Guadalupe

Watch Juan Diego:  Messenger of Guadalupe

More rabbit trails for older children:

Research Christmas traditions in Mexico. Make a flip book of them for your notebook.

The story of Our Lady of Guadeloupe is presented as a legend in the book, using another source, read about the Church’s official teaching on Juan Diego. Read about the canonization of Juan Diego.

Our Lady of Guadeloupe is just one of many of Mary’s titles.  Make a list of all of them and decorate the list with embellishments.

Carve a nativity set.

Draw Our Lady of Guadalupe

Poet Study:

Read "Twas The Night Before Christmas" by Clement C. Moore, Matt Tavares (Illustrator). Read every day, slowly, memorizing the poem together.  This is the only poetry for the entire month.  Break copywork into small chunks.  Let children illustrate segments as they memorize.

Science and Nature Study

Don’t forget to get outside for a hike and don’t let it get swept away by the pressure of the season.  A brisk walk is a great stress-buster for mom and kids.

Go to a Christmas tree farm and compare the different varieties of trees.  Make sketches and label them in nature notebooks.

Read about Christmas plants in Hark! A Christmas Sampler (beginning on page 60). Visit a nursery to see Christmas plants up close.  Bring home a poinsettia.

Narrate what you learned about Christmas plants and make a poinsettia covered brad-book for your notebook.  Copy a poinsettia picture from de Paola’s book, laminate it, trace it onto several pages of lined paper.  Write narrations on the lined paper and “bind” them behind the laminated illustration with a brad.


Enjoy A Classical Kids Christmas

Listen to Castilian Roses

Tea Time Read Aloud: Strega Nona's Gift

Saint’s biography: The Story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Empress of the Americas

Jotham’s Journey (Ytreeide)  This is includes a daily reading for every day of Advent and Christmas Day.  It is an adventure story that can get intense at times.  Preview each selection and paraphrase if you think it necessary.  Not a bedtime story.



Tutorial for these are in the Comfort & Joy Ebook :-).


The week before and Christmas Week

Scripture memory and copywork choose all or part of Luke 2:7-14


Child will listen to or read the following books according to interest and ability and then narrate aloud or write narrations:

Jingle the Christmas Clown

Clown of God

The Friendly Beasts

Who’s Coming to Our House? (This is a great one to have a new reader read to the toddlers.)

The Miracle of St. Nicholas

The Miracle on34th Street (de Paola illustrator)

Papa’s Angels

For notebooks, take a color copy of the book covers and reduce them. Keyboard the narration and paste it behind the copy, flipbook style.

Read Alouds:

Christmas Remembered (This is a new Tomie de Paola. We’re pretty excited about our autographed version. Thanks for thinking of us Leah; wish we could have been there!)

St. John Bosco (Vision Books) or watch this wonderful DVD

More copywork for notebooks:

Make a color copy of each of the animals in The Friendly Beasts and fold over and cut. Copy the verse from the book beneath each animal and paste into notebook.

On the web:

This Devotions to Infant Jesus website has an overview and links to various pages. On this page there are some images of saints traditionally depicted holding the infant Jesus (Mary , Joseph, Christopher, Anthony, Cajetan)


Rabbit Trails for the whole family:

  • Read the “Gift of the Littlest Shepherd” in Hark! A Christmas Sampler.  Compare the gift of the shepherd with the gift of the juggler.
  • Read The Little Drummer Boy. What gift have you got to give?
  • Make a gift coupon for each person in your family.  Decorate them in Tomie de Paola’s style.
  • Make a gingerbread stable for Jingle’s animals.  Use animal crackers in your scene.
  • Saint John Bosco could juggle.  Find out how this skill was helpful in his ministry.
  • Learn to juggle.
  • Make star cookies using the recipe in Jingle The Christmas Clown. This year, we are making gingerbread star cookies for Gaudete Sunday and decorating them with pink and purple sparkle sugar.
  • On December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, read “The Dough and the Child” in Hark! A Christmas Sampler.  Make yeast bread.
  • After reading The Miracle of St. Nicholas, discuss how the farmer’s wife kept hope alive and made beeswax candles year after year. Make some of your own. Here are some to roll.  Here is some great information formore beeswax candlesmaking. You can order bulk beeswax from Mountain Rose Herbs.
  • A nice addition to the unit study for this week would be to look at some of the devotions to the Holy Child and learn about them:
  • Jesu Bambino (Rome)
  • Infant of Prague (Czech Republic)
  • Santo Nino de Atocha (Spain, Mexico)
  • Santo Bambino di Ara Coeli or Lama dei Peligni (Italy)
  • Santo Nino of Cebu (Philippines)
  • Divino Nino de Bogata (Columbia)

Pray the Infant of Prague Novena as a family.

Poet Study:

Read Twas The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore, Matt Tavares (Illustrator). Read every day, slowly, memorizing the poem together. This is the only poetry for the entire month. Break copywork into small chunks. Let children illustrate segments as they memorize.

Picture Study:

Sift through the Christmas cards your family receives. For the ones depicting classic art, learn the titles and artists. Spend an afternoon trying to copy one or two of them.

Science and Nature Study:

  • Jingle took good care of the animals.  Animal were also important to Saint Francis.  Read “The Legend of the Birds” in Hark! A Christmas Sampler .  Make a present for the birds using pinecones, peanut butter, and birdseed.  Hang it with a Christmas ribbon on a tree in your yard.
  • We tend to romanticize the stable.  Take a trip to a working barn during Christmas week.  Be prepared for unpleasant sights and smells.  Imagine a tiny infant there.
  • Write a Christmas story with animals in it.


Enjoy Christmas Carols 24/7!

Tea Time Read Aloud

Jotham’s Journey (Ytreeide) This is includes a daily reading for every day of Advent and Christmas Day. It is an adventure story that can get intense at times. Preview each selection and paraphrase if you think it necessary. Not a bedtime story.

Week Four


1. Read Mary, The Mother of Jesus as a family and study the pictures.  Compare the events depicted in the book with the mysteries of the rosary.

2. Illustrate the mysteries of the rosary, reflecting the style in dePaola’s book.  Use the illustration for meditation when you pray the family rosary this year.

3. Also read Donkey's Dream by Barbara Helen Berger.

4. Read and memorize “The Donkey’s Song” in Hark! A Christmas Sampler.

5. Using a new calendar, write in all the Marian feast days and decorate those squares.

6. On January first, we honor Mary in her role as the Mother of God.  Choose a mother (or grandmother or godmother) you know who reminds you of the Blessed Mother.  Write about it.  Illustrate your essay with a border of forget-me-nots like those in The Donkey’s Dream.  Present your essay as a gift to the mother you chose.

7. Read “The Legend of the Rosemary” in Hark! A Christmas Sampler.

8. Make rosemary botanical candles.  Wrap and knot a length of wick around a pencil.  Suspend it across the top of a clean quart sized milk carton (cut the top off the carton to make it square).  Melt beeswax in an clean aluminum can set in a pot of simmering water.  Pour into the carton, filling the carton about one quarter of the way full. Let harden slightly and sprinkle with dried rosemary.  Add more hot wax, to the halfway mark and repeat with the rosemary until you have filled the candle.  Let harden completely (overnight).  Peel away the milk carton.

9. Make Rosemary Chicken for dinner.

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 cans cream of mushroom soup

one half cup white wine

one teaspoon dried rosemary

Flour the chicken breasts and brown quickly in a skillet with olive oil (no need to cook through).    Put chicken in a crock pot and cover with the rest of the ingredients.  Cook on low eight to ten hours.  Serve over egg noodles.

10.  Obtain a copy of an art book which shows the frescoes that inspired de Paola.  Compare them with de Paola’s drawings.  Write a critical essay contrasting the two.

Week Five

The Legend of Old Befana

1. Read “The Littlest Camel” in Hark! A Christmas Sampler

2. Read “Baboushka” in Hark! A Christmas Sampler

3. On January sixth, leave a little gift at a neighbor’s door with a note signed “Old Befana.”  Keep the secret forever.

4. Make cardboard crowns.  Decorate throughout January with one plastic jewel for every Bible verse memorized.

5. Make stars from translucent paper to hang in the window to remind you to always follow the star.  ########

6. Make King cake with little treasures baked into it.  Serve with wassail punch.

7. What is the scientific explanation of the star in the east?

8. Compare Baboushka with Old Befana.  Write a short, well-organized paragraph contrasting the two.

9. Cut up this year’s Christmas cards to make flannelboard pieces. Can you tell the whole nativity story with them.  What else can you do with them?  Be creative.