Readings in the build-up to Christmas isn’t something new. The web is full of daily readings for advent, pitched at a whole range of different ages and stages.
What does it mean to share a book – or a series of stories – over nearly a month?
I don’t remember regular reading of books pre-Christmas as a child. Maybe I was just trawling my way through as many books as I could get my hands on, and my parents left me to it.
But in my teens, I came across the writer Zibby Oneal, and in particular her book A Formal Feeling. And one way or another, I came to a habit of reading it not just once, but annually, where I remembered, usually in December.
Once started, I soon left behind the notion of a chapter a day, and just ploughed on through. (I also realised that a few of my posts in the past were more inspired by this book than I knew – the notion of ghost footprints on pavements being one.)
There is something appealing about a viewpoint into another person’s Christmas. Some of it is familiar, some of it is different.
Really, Christmas, with all its repetitions and memories, is a character in its own right in the book: and a way into exploring grief. What we remember, what we repeat because of keeping someone’s memory alive – and sometimes, an opportunity to see if our memories are accurate or not.
Between this and my trusty perpetual Advent calendar, I thought I’d got my regular Advent readings covered. And I have: for me. (I’m still reading others as I come across them, usually through other people’s blogs, so I guess those are extras.)
But there’s always space to build a tradition for someone else.
It’s interesting to see how one small change can spark its own tradition. So last year, having realised I’d bought a particular Christmas story compilation but not yet used it, we made a start.
The book has a mixture of stories: retellings of familiar Bible passages in the build-up of the Christmas story, but also classic Christmas stories from other countries.
Some I’d heard before, others were completely new to me, like one explaining how poinsettias came to be connected with Christmas. If you’re interested, I can’t find exactly the one we’ve got, but this is pretty close.
Often, Dan is the one in charge of stories at bedtime for Junior Reader. But for Advent, we tried out reading together: Dan would read a story at the front of the book, I would read one at the back. Little by little, we’d meet in the middle.
It became incredibly soothing. One of us would snuggle with Junior Reader, the other would read aloud to us all. Then we’d swap over. I found myself looking forward to the end of the day (and not just for the usual tired parent reasons).
There’s not quite enough stories in the book to cover all of Advent, but that’s fine – there are others we have to hand that we can add in. Since I usually can’t stop talking about children’s books, I see no reason to leave you guessing:
- The Tailor of Gloucester (Beatrix Potter). I have the opportunity to put on my best mouse voice for ‘no more twist!’ – and try to keep dry eyes for the finale. As it’s now out of copyright, I’ve linked to the full thing on Project Gutenberg.
- Lucy and Tom’s Christmas (Shirley Hughes). I love Shirley Hughes’ illustrations. I also particularly like the point in the story where Tom gets ‘cross’ on Christmas Day afternoon, and goes out for a walk with grandpa to calm down.
- Angel Mae (Shirley Hughes). Another Shirley Hughes picture book. This one has a school nativity and a baby sister who is treated with some suspicion.
- Spot’s Magical Christmas (Eric Hill). If your own junior reader likes a story where a character has to help Father Christmas manage the big delivery, you may like this one.
It has its own animated film now too.
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Dr Seuss). I have been late in coming to the party for this one, but as we love lots of other Dr Seuss, it was time to try this too.
We also have a very simple woodcut-style picture Christmas Story book (kindly sold off by the local library), and a version of T’was the Night Before Christmas, both of which are generally reserved for Christmas Eve.
It all seemed to go well last time, so this year, we’re doing the same again. But ever aware of possible book-reading gaps in the day, I am sneaking in a version of The Nutcracker, with illustrations by Maurice Sendak. (You know I can’t resist a good Sendak picture book.)
Junior Reader is appreciating the bravery of the toy Nutcracker, the armies of toy soldiers, and the intrigue of what the King Mouse does next. I am reappreciating my parents buying lovely books for my childhood, and enjoying Junior Reader’s excitement.
I don’t know if we will end up reprising this as well – maybe we’ll find something new. I rather fancy reading The Box of Delights some time, if Junior Reader is up for another Christmas-related story, but we’ll see.
The main treat, of course, is gathering together, daily. Letting the words spill out into the air, building the magic.
Few of us would wish for ‘always winter, but never Christmas‘ – we look at the dark, the challenges in life, and long for resolution of them. Whichever Christmas story we are reading.