Over the next couple weeks, I will highlight some of the best in holiday stories and literature. Today, the focus is on how Christmas became a holiday and the traditions associated with it. Each book discusses the religious, secular, and multi-cultural influences on contemporary Christmas celebrations. The one fact they consistently state inaccurately is that the wise men were in the stable with Jesus either the night he was born or shortly after. Biblical references indicate it was much later, probably 1-2 years after, that the wise men visited their “house,” not the stable. Otherwise, these non-fiction books about Christmas are educational for people of all ages. They are ordered from easiest to most advance.
Christmas (ages 2-5) by Brenda Haugen
Beginning with some of the “signs” of Christmas liked wrapped packages and holiday songs, the origins and traditions of the season are concisely discussed. The birth of Christ as the reason for the holiday is briefly mentioned. Then, ancient traditions such as lights and evergreen trees are connected to modern day celebrations. Gift giving, Santa Claus, and family gatherings are briefly covered. Also included are directions for a candy picture frame, fun facts, vocabulary, and other resources. The simple illustrations and text are ideal for preschool age children.
Christmas is… (ages 3-7) by Gail Gibbons
This selection goes a bit further than Haugen’s Christmas. The birth of Christ begins the story along with related symbols of angels and the manger (crèche). Next, the connection of Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus is discussed. Christmas trees, festive lights, ornaments, holly, wreaths, mistletoe, and poinsettias are all linked briefly to the holiday. The traditions of sending cards, giving gifts, sharing feasts, singing carols, and saying prayers are highlighted. Ultimately, Gibbons states, “Christmas is peace, love, and joy.”
Christmas: A True Book (ages 7-13) by Dana Meachen Rau
Christmas: A True Book is broken up into chapters for quick reference or incremental reading. It is written in an informative but narrative style with frequent photographs and other art work illustrations. The story of the first Christmas is covered well. Then, the history of the holiday with the traditions of Roman Saturnalia and winter solstice festivals is illuminated. Interestingly, Rau states that because of these pagan influences (still practiced today) many Christians (such as the Puritans) did not participate in the Christmas celebration. Other chapters cover Santa Claus, decorating trees, other traditions, and international celebrations. This series is one of my overall favorites.
Christmas (ages 7-13) by Alice K. Flanagan
Broken into short sections using simple text, the tradition of Christmas is traced. The adaptations of the Roman Saturnalia are connected to early Christians’ celebration of Christ’s birth. Gift giving is linked to both the gifts the Magi brought Jesus and the tradition of Saint Nicholas, a generous clergyman. The development of Santa Claus myth is concisely explained. Other symbols are featured, such as the Christmas crib, the Christmas tree, stockings, and poinsettias. Finally, readers are encouraged to use Christmas as a springboard to be joyful, to forgive others, to be kind, and to help the needy.
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The Family Christmas Tree Book (ages ALL) by Tomie DePaola
As a family finds and decorates their Christmas tree, they discuss how the Christmas tree tradition began in the Middle Ages with evergreen branches decorated with apples in front of churches which eventually moved to evergreens and small fir trees in homes, Christbaums, pyramids, and lightstocks. Next, they share how the Christmas trees became a part of the American and English holiday celebrations. The family explains many other aspects such as how candle lights transitioned to string lights as well as the use of ornaments and tree stands. The Family Christmas Tree Book is written in an interesting, conversational style. Since it only focuses on the Christmas tree, it is the most thorough cited source on the topic.