The Fine Line Between Preparing and Jumping the Gun

I'm not a big fan of Peppermint Joe-Joes before Thanksgiving. Or of Mint Hot Chocolate crowding out the Pumpkin Spiced Chai. I'm not one to decorate for Christmas in mid-November. But...

There is something to be said for ordering Christmas cards when you order your Thanksgiving bird. There's a definite advantage to buying Advent candles by the case in January and having them blessed at Candlemas, especially when it's the first year after the Catholic store around the corner has closed up shop forever. And there's much to be said for organizing the Advent and Christmas books before Advent actually begins.

Here's the plan we hit on last year. Hopefully, this early Advent and Christmas post will be helpful right now. Also, I see lots of Christmasish searches happening here. We are doing LOTS of behind-the-scenes work in order to get ready for an Advent Workshop, but if you're trying to find something in particular, leave me a comment here and I'll see if I can help. And if you just have a question about Advent or Christmas and how we do things around here, I'm happy to entertain those now, too. Because thinking ahead is the first step in living intentionally. 


Karoline is perusing Christmas Around the World


Chris Scarlett sent me another wonderful annotated book list. Lots of the books on her list are family favorites of ours.  I've been trying to wrap my brain around a reading plan for Advent this year.

Last year, I wrapped all of our advent and Christmas books and labeled them to open one or two a day. I'm pretty excited about my crazy organization. Patting my inner Martha on the back....

All so good.

We will unwrap one a day (two in some cases) and be sure that book gets the spotlight that day. Then, all the others and all the previously unwrapped ones can also be read on any given day.  I reserved certain feast day books and our favorite Peppermint Day inspiration. I absolutely did not overthink this. Honestly, I mostly let Mary Beth do it. The big goal--the whole idea--is just be certain every book gets read at least once and to trust that the literature will work its way into their hearts and their warm memories.

I've got some meaty, longer read-alongs for knitting afternoons (I'll share those later). 

And I have some chapter books set aside for read-alones.

I'm making lists of homemade gifts supplies and plans for some crafting, but I'm determined to focus on cozy and calm. This year, I really want to focus on the books themselves and a few well-chosen meaningful gifts to make. I think this just might work this year. (Here's a super interesting study on children and giving. Really worth a careful look and some serious consideration. HT: Lisa Roder).

Below, I've mixed my thoughts in with Chris' notes. I'm sorry if this confuses some of you. Please think of it as the virtual version of two enthusiastic picture book lovers trying to tell you everything that excites them about Christmas books all at once:-). Lots to love here.


Early Advent:

The Twenty-four Days Before Christmas, An Austin Family Story by Madeleine L'Engle, illustrated by Joe DeVelasco (few pictures, but a delightful story to stretch out from December 1-24)

Waiting For Noel, An Advent Story by Ann Dixon, illustrated by Mark Graham (Family waiting for a birth in this and the previous title. I love to give this as a gift to families awaiting "Christmas babies." And I love to read it every year with my Christmas baby.)

The Little Advent Book by Ida Bohatta, English version by John Theobald (sweet, tiny German book if you can find it)

Deck the Hall by Sylvia Long. (Fun, whimsically illlustrated book of the favorite carol. Pre-readers love to "read" it aloud because they know the song.)

Jesse Tree Companions:

Your favorite children's illustrated (or adult) Bible

 One Wintry Night by Ruth Bell Graham (Billy's wife), illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson (especially well done illustrations in this story that immerses us in a compressed version of salvation history from Creation to Easter)

General Nativity Themes:

The Story of Christmas, words from the Gospels of Mathew and Luke, pictures by Jane Ray (do not miss these Eastern style paintings)

The First Christmas by Rachel Billington, illustrations by Barbara Brown (very complete)

The Christ Child, as told by Matthew and Luke, made by Maud and Miska Petersham (1931, might be hard to come by, but so worth a try)

The Story of the Nativity by Elizabeth Winthrop, illustrated by Ruth Sanderson (brief, little intro for younger children)

King of the Stable, by Melody Carlson (A wealthy boy in biblical times learns the meaning of the Incarnation when he must leave his home to live with poorer relatives in Bethlehem--and ends up helping a certain couple who are about to have a very special baby.)

The Shepherd's Christmas Story, by Dandi Mackall (This is the story of the announcement that the Savior was born, described by a shepherd who was there.)

Bright Christmas, An Angel Remembers, by Andrew Clements (Clements  imagines a heavenly perspective on the birth of Jesus. The clever and colloquial text incorporates angel appearances from several Bible stories and hints at what it might feel like to be such a religious messenger. Kiesler's  soft oil paintings set the scene for biblical events with canvases of blue-black starlit nights and vast expanses of golden Middle Eastern desert. Worth the hunt to find this one.)

This next group of general Nativity tiltles would be especially nice to revisit on or near Christmas Eve.

Father and Son: A Nativity Story by Geraldine McCraughean (I'm so sad this is out of print. Do hunt it down. This quiet picture book imagines the thoughts and fears of Joseph as he reflects on the birth of the Christ child. Glowing illustrations offer a series of pleasant scenes, as Joseph envisions the baby growing to be a boy. Charming decorative borders add gracefully frame the pages).

The First Night by B. G. Hennessy, paintings by Steve Johnson with Lou Fancher (perfect for toddlers, preschoolers, or a Baby's First Christmas gift)

One Special Star by Anita McFadzean, illustrated by Kate Jasper's (a counting book, from 10-1)

All For The Newborn Baby by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Nicola Bayley (nature-inspired lullaby)

Christmas in the Barn by Margaret Wise Brown, pictures by Barbara Cooney (from two Grand Dames of children's lit)

A Gift From St. Francis  by Joanna Cole, illustrated Michele Lemieux

This is the Star, by Joyce Dunbar(lovely, lyrical story of everyone who was touched by the Star that night)

Christmas Gift of the Priesthood:

King Island Christmas by Jean Rogers, illustrated by Rie Munoz (Eskimo story.  Will Fr. Carroll make it in time for Mass?)

The Miracle of St. Nicholas by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Judith Brown Don't miss this story of a Russian Christmas surprise. I dearly, dearly love this book. This year, with all the parts of our parish mission dispersed into various homes in the neighborhood, the book resonates all the more.


Inspired by Christmas Music (look for more on the Christmastide list):

Joy To The World! Carols selected by Maureen Forrester, illustrated by Frances Tyrrell (favorites and lesser-known songs with especially cute illustrations)

And It Came To Pass by Jean Slaughter, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard (the Biblical account interspersed with snippets of carols, vintage 1971)

Silent Night, The Song and Its Story by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Tim Ladwig (I totally wish I could visit Austria some day.)

Silent Night illustrated by Susan Jeffers, verses by Joseph Mohr (all the verses, lovely)

 Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella, A Provencal Carol, pictures by Adrienne Adams (very Euro)

 The Huron Carol by Father Jean de Brebeuf, illustrated by Frances Tyrrell (Native American carol written by a Jesuit, great artwork) There's an MP3 here: The Huron Carol by Father Jean de Brebeuf

 'Twas In The Moon Of Wintertime, The First American Christmas Carol adapted by Roz Abisch, illustrated by Boche Kaplan (same song as the previous book with a completely different art style.  See which one your children prefer.)

Any version of The Nutcracker if going to the ballet is in your plans this year.  The Scarlett family has a commercial version that is kind of a Where's Waldo-inspired Nutcracker.  The Foss family has this one:

The Nutcracker, (this is a hefty coffee table book in classic Sendak style)


Nurturing Family-Oriented Themes (will work equally well during the Christmas season):

Grandfather's Christmas Tree by Keith Strand, illustrated by Thomas Locker (survival in 1886 Colorado)

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston, pictures by Barbara Cooney (I love this story of Dad's surprise return form the Great War.)

My Prairie Christmas by Brett Harvey, illustrations by Deborah Kogan Ray (touching and suspenseful)

 A New Coat For Anna by Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Anita Lobel (based on a true post-WW 2 story of delayed gratification, can be enjoyed year around)

Silent Night by Will Moses (folk art and a new baby--what's not to love?)

The Snow Speaks by Nancy White Carlstrom, illustrated by Jane Dyer (one of my favorite illustrators)

An Early American Christmas by Tomie dePaola  (my adult daughter, Natalie's, annual favorite, makes me want to get some real bayberry candles.)

Christmas Remembered by Tomie dePaola (each chapter is an interesting autobiographical story of his colorful life, pun intended)

 The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden, pictures by Barbara Cooney  (both boys and girls like this for different reasons)

 The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, illustrated by P. J. Lynch (a very popular story)

The Angel of Mill Street by Frances Ward Weller, illustrated by Robert J. Blake (Catholic culture pervades this survival tale)

Nine Days To Christmas, A Story of Mexico by Marie Hall Ets and Aurora LaBastida (Caldecott Medal, use this if you celebrate La Posada)

 A Time To Keep, The Tasha Tudor Book of Holidays (check out the December, then January sections)

Christmas Poetry (for tea time or bedtime?)

A Christmas Treasury compiled by Mark Daniel(genteel)

 A Christmas Garland, Stories, poems, and prayers for the holiday season compiled by Grace Hudson, illustrated by Margaret Tarrant (sweet illustrations)

Welcome Christmas! A Garland of Poems chosen by Anne Thaxter Eaton, decorated by Valenti Angelo (1955, sparsely illustrated)

Tales of Christmas (good weekend books):

 Why The Chimes Ring by Raymond MacDonald Alden, illustrated by Rafaello Busoni (cathedral setting)

For Every Child A Star, A Christmas Story by Thomas Yeomans, illustrated by Tomie dePaola  (would work well for Epiphany, too)

The Fourth Wise Man, Based on the story by Henry Van Dyke, retold by Susan Summers, illustrated by Jackie Morris (even the endpapers are gorgeous in this one)

Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, illustrated by Roberto Innocenti (the best version I have ever seen, good prep for or follow up to a live performance)

The Christmas Donkey by Gillian McClure (the only book on the list with a talking animal, I promise)

Special Feast Days During Advent:

St. Nicholas, December 6th

The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Demi (would make a great gift today, briefly discusses Santa Claus, too)

The Gift of Saint Nicholas by Dorothea Lachner, illustrated by Maja Dusikova (Eastern European village-y feel)

The Baker's Dozen by Heather Forest, illustrated by Susan Gaber (Scarlett family fave.  I told my crew that the semi-creepy old lady is a metaphor for the baker's conscience.  Others have done versions of this story, but this is my top choice.  When a business begins to cut corners or cheap-out over time, our family refers to it as a Van Amsterdam.  Read this book and you will see why.)

Immaculate Conception, December 8th

These do a good job of covering Mother Mary's early life.

Young Mary of Nazareth by Mariana Mayer (my first choice)

Mary by Brian Wildsmith (great artwork)

Mary, the Mother of Jesus by Tomie dePaola

St. Juan Diego, December 9th/Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12th

The Story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Empress of the Americas by C. Lourdes Walsh, illustrations from paintings by Jorge Sanchez-Hernandez (excellent version)

The Lady of Guadalupe by Tomie dePaola (very reverent, but easy to relate to)

 Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of the Americas by Father Lawrence Lovasik, S.V.D. (inexpensive and not very high quality publication, but good information)

St. Lucia (Lucy), December 13th

 Lucia Morning in Sweden by Ewa Rydaker, with illustrations by Carina Stahlberg (modern family's customs)

Erik and the Christmas Horse by Hans Pererson, illustrated by Ilon Wikland (also set in Sweden, vintage 1970)

Lucia Saint of Light by Katherine Bolger Hyde Lovely book, with recipe of Santa Lucia buns and also with music for a hymn. Written from the Eastern Orthodox perspective.