Books Worth Reading: Christmas Edition

It’s Christmas Eve!

In a time of year full of traditions, there is one I think I cherish the most, and it will happen this evening, after Mass and dinner out, when all my kids–even the adult ones–will gather in the living room before the tree to open one present each.

The tradition has its roots in my own childhood.  I don’t know where I got the idea that everyone should be allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve, but I convinced my mother that we, too, should adopt this custom.  And for the first few years, I can remember picking any present I wanted to, which usually meant the biggest one!

Somewhere along the way, our practice changed to opening a specific present that my mother chose, and it was always a chapter book.  The idea was that we would go up to bed and read a few chapters and it would help us fall asleep while waiting for Santa.

Emily was not quite a year old on her first Christmas, and I started the tradition immediately with a picture book I read to her before putting her to bed.   The following year I gave her a Christmas book by Tomie de Paola (described in more detail below).  This gave me the idea that going forward I would give only Christmas books.

As Christmases passed and our family grew, so too did our collection of Christmas picture books.  I started a couple of new traditions–reading a few stories every year in my children’s classrooms, having a bedtime story party for their classmates in our home.  Then our house burned down and we lost them all.  A sweet little girl in Lorelei’s class, remembering the party she had attended the year before, helped us repurchase our favorites, and six years later we again have a full box that we pull out every year.

It became increasingly difficult to find five good-quality Christmas books that we didn’t already have every year!  For awhile I tried buying the big kids chapter books but the Christmas offerings for adults weren’t quite on the same level as the picture books they had loved as children.  So last year I tweaked the tradition yet again, and began giving Emily, Jake, and Teddy each their own copy of one of our favorites for them to begin building their own Christmas library.

We began last year with The Clown of God by Tomie de Paola, our all-time favorite that we read on Christmas Eve every year after we’ve finished the new books.  I cannot get through this sweet retelling of an old legend without crying.  It’s a very Catholic tale of conversion with some Franciscan brothers and a miracle included.
the clown of god
This year they will be receiving The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski.  This redemptive love story is beautifully illustrated and yes, it makes me cry too.
jonathan toomey
The Other Wise Man, a story written originally by Henry van Dyke and adapted for children by Pamela Kennedy, will probably be next year’s gift.  It’s the story of a fourth wise man who missed meeting Jesus in person because he was too busy helping others along the way.
The Other WIse Man
An Appalachian tale based on a true story, Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant is another touching story about Christmas giving that ends with a tear-inducing twist.
silver packages
The four stories above were among the first Christmas books we collected and they continue to be favorites that the kids–yes, even the big ones–want to hear year after year.  But there have been a few gems that despite their more recent acquisition have captured a spot on our favorites list, like A Small Miracle by Peter Collington, a surprising tale in which a poor woman is repaid for her kindness by some very unexpected visitors.  This is a quirky, wordless story that will hold the attention of every age group.
small miracle
I’ll stop here, because five seems like a good number and then I can do this again next year.  Tell me about your favorites in the comments–and Merry Christmas!

Answer Me This #5

Back with another episode of Answer Me This!  (Please visit Catholic All Year, the sponsor of this fun Q-and-A linkup!)
1. Beach or Mountains? Where would you rather be?
Right this minute, the beach, because it’s the beginning of summer.  And I do like to visit the beach once a year (generally we find time for a day at the shore when we are on our yearly Baltimore vacation).  But that’s really enough, and the people who want to spend their whole vacation at the beach every year baffle me.
John and I honeymooned in the mountains outside Gatlinburg.  If I could, I would build a cabin up there to retire in.  I love our mountains and realize that we are beyond lucky to live where we do.

Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains
Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains

2. Which is more fun: Christmas Eve, or Christmas morning?
I remember the magic of Christmas Eve when I was a child.  There was just nothing like lying in bed that night, not so much because of the anticipation over the gifts as the belief that Santa Claus was COMING TO MY HOUSE.  And I enjoy Christmas Eve very much–Mass, our annual dinner at the Olive Garden, opening and reading Christmas books.  Still, at this point it’s still a bit stressful, what with the need to get everyone to bed and the necessity of playing Santa and getting no sleep.  Plus there’s really nothing like watching your kids on Christmas morning, is there?  Remember when you were little and they told you that it was better to give than to receive? You didn’t believe it then but isn’t it amazing and wonderful when that actually comes true?
Christmas 1973
Me in 1973, believing in magic

3. What’s the most embarrassing childhood outfit you remember wearing?
Oh my.  My grandmother bought my clothes at Sears.  There was a lot of terry cloth and polyester.  I’m not really embarrassed by my childhood outfits but my friends made a lot of fun of the red hat I used to wear all the time.  I wish I had a picture.  I loved that hat and I saved it–I kept it with other keepsakes in my dresser drawer right up until the house burned down.
4. Your house is quiet, you don’t have to do work (housework included). What do you do?
BLOG.  And boy do I wish it happened more often. 🙁
5. What movie do you want to watch when you’re feeling under the weather?
It doesn’t occur to me to watch a movie when I’m under the weather.  However, strangely enough, I came down with the flu on Christmasnight, and my kids wanted to watch Moonstruck, which is actually my favorite movie ever, so that’s sort of an answer to the question.
 6. Did you have an American Girl doll when you were little? If so, which one?
Well, I’m dating myself here, but they had not been invented yet.  I would have loved loved loved to have one.  I loved old-fashioned things and was always drawing pictures of girls in 19th century garb.  If I COULD have had one, I would have picked Felicity.  I did have the joy of being able to give one to Emily for her 7th birthday (Samantha) and then there’s spoiled little Lorelei who has three of them! (I only bought one of them, I’ll have you know.)
So there you have it!  Click over to Kendra’s blog and answer the questions yourself, if you want to.