Wonderful Christmas Books
This is the time of year when our hearts desire what is real, what is valuable, and what is meaningful. At this time I always climb up on a step stool to the top of the bookcase in the dining room and pull down a stack of what I call “the Christmas books.” Over the years I have read these out loud and we have cherished many of these stories as a family, but I also love the joy of just reading them alone on a quiet afternoon, as the sun pours through the bay window. I thought I would list some of these books for you, and share a little bit about each of them.
The first book I want to tell you about is Baboushka. This story comes from Russia and was first published in 1982 by Lion Press in Great Britain, and was later published by Crossway books. It is a traditional Russian folk tale about a woman named Baboushka. She was “the world’s cleanest woman”; she cleaned and dusted and worked like a slave. Since everyone knew she had the nicest house in the village, when the three kings came to town, the villagers sent them to her. She waited on them and gave them wonderful food. The kings were following a star to a baby, who is a king. Baboushka tells them that the little king of her family, her son, died and she still has all of his toys. The kings beg her to go with them, but she tells them she would follow them after all of her cleaning was done.
When she was finally ready to leave she decides to take a little rest because she is so very tired. She fell into a deep sleep and slept the whole day! She jumped up out of her rest, grabbed her basket and ran after the kings. Everywhere she goes people tell her “Yes, the kings were here.” She went to the palace and they say “Yes, the kings were here. But they went to this place called Bethlehem, I don’t know why.” So she finally gets to Bethlehem and finds they are gone. But a man standing in the shadows tells her they have fled to Egypt to escape the king. So Baboushka travels throughout the world looking for the Christ child. And everywhere she goes she leaves a toy from her basket when she sees a sleeping child or hears of good deeds. She goes on with her journey, searching and calling “is He here?...is the Christ Child here?” Baboushka really is the St. Nicholas story, in a sense, for Russia. It is a beautifully illustrated and meaningful book.
Christmas In My Heart
Another book that I have thoroughly enjoyed over the years is a little book called Christmas In My Heart, by Joe Wheeler. The edition that we had is The Second Treasury of Holiday Joy. It is a compilation of short stories, some will make you sob while others will warm your heart. Joe Wheeler has compiled these stories from people all over the world. Some have been sent to him and others he sought out. They are the very best Christmas stories that he could find. I believe there are many in his series but I particularly like The Second Treasury of Holiday Joy.
The Mystery of Holy Light
This is a beautiful book written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and illustrated by Fra Angelico entitled The Mystery of Holy Light. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these letters from prison when he was under arrest for plotting to assassinate Adolf Hitler. In this book, he begins with Luke 1:46-55 which is called The Magnificat, Mary’s song after the angel announced she would be the mother of our Lord. Bonhoeffer wrote these letters to his brothers, sisters, and fiancée shortly before his death as he meditated on the coming of Christ in Advent.
The illustrator was a 15th century monk. He was named Fra Angelico by the monks he lived among in Florence because it meant “brother of the angels.” In the monastery, he painted on the walls of the monks’ rooms, called cells. His paintings of the annunciation, which illustrate the pages of this book, are some of the most famous in the world. They bring us visually into the mystery of Advent.
The Christmas Day Kitten
On a lighthearted note is the book we have enjoyed since JJ was a very little boy, The Christmas Day Kitten by James Herriott. It is the true story of the veterinarian in Yorkshire, James Herriott, and his interaction with a little stray cat that one of his clients had adopted. This stray cat named Judy came and went very mysteriously. One Christmas day, Judy came and brought a kitten to the hearth of the home that she frequented and proceeded to die. James Herriott goes to visit the family the year following and finds the Christmas kitten grown up, rambunctious, and fun. The owner of the home says that this little kitten, Buster, was the best Christmas gift she ever received.
Papa Panov’s Special Day
One of the most powerful books for the Christmas season I have ever read is Papa Panov’s Special Day. It’s adapted from the story by Leo Tolstoy and published by Lion Press in 1976, and republished in 1989 with illustrations. Papa Panov is a shoemaker in Russia. His only child and wife have died. One night while he is praying and reading Scripture, the Lord speaks to him. He tells Panov that he will be coming to visit him on Christmas, which was the very next day. So Papa Panov gets up very early to make his soup and his coffee. All day long as he looks out the window he meets different people and invites them in. He offers them care and comfort and gifts. He reaches out to a street sweeper, a single mom with her freezing baby, and other poor and needy people in order to encourage them. At the end of Christmas day he says to the Lord, “I thought you said you were coming to see me? But Jesus, you never came.” And the Lord says to him, “Didn’t you see me? Didn’t you see me Papa Panov?” “Who are you?” asks Papa Panov. He hears the Lord say “I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me water. I was cold, and you took me in. These people you have helped today, all the time you were helping them, you were helping me.”
A Child’s Christmas in Wales
Dylan Thomas, the great Welsh poet, wrote a classic poem called A Child’s Christmas in Wales. It has been a huge part of our family’s traditions. We have an edition that is illustrated by Edward Ardizzone, published by David Godine. It is a verbatim reproduction of Dylan Thomas’ poem of his childhood and what it was like to spend Christmas day in Wales. It is funny, mischievous, and the illustrations by Ardizzone are the very best. This is not a book to be missed. When JJ was growing up we had a tape of Dylan Thomas reciting this poem and JJ memorized it. He would listen to it as he would fall asleep and he just loved it. It may be worth searching for the recording for your children as well.
The Christmas Stories of George MacDonald
You may know that Tolkien was highly influenced by George MacDonald and C.S. Lewis termed MacDonald “his master.” The Scottish-born author, George MacDonald was a pastor and the father of 13 children. MacDonald wrote very thoughtful Christmas stories. My personal favorite is in this book entitled The Gifts of the Child Christ. All of his books stand up to being read aloud multiple times. The Christmas Stories of George MacDonald was published by David C. Cook in 1981 and illustrated by Linda Griffith.
The Advent Book
The Advent Book is unforgettable. It was magnificently illustrated by Jack Stockman, who also illustrated The Tales of the Kingdom. Each of the pages in this board book has a three dimensional door to open with a beautiful illustration and a Scripture verse. There is one for each day, so there are 25 doors in the book. It is a lovely book that could be used while you light your advent candles or during your quiet time after dinner.
Santa, Are You For Real?
I am going to close with the book Santa, Are You For Real? by Harold Myra, a former president of Christianity Today, and illustrated by Dwight Walles . It is a story of a little boy who goes home rather heart-broken after finding out Santa is not real. His father begins to tell him the story of the real Father Christmas, St. Nicholas, who was a bishop in Myra (no connection to the author). He tells the story of his good deeds and how when we celebrate Christmas and we put Christ at the center, we are celebrating as St. Nicholas would. The father says to the boy, “The real St. Nicholas is now in heaven with Jesus. All the Santas you see in stores and on sidewalks remind us of St. Nicholas and the reason he gave gifts: because Jesus came the first Christmas to give himself for us.” It was published in 1977 by Thomas Nelson.