Many families have their own particular cherished Christmas customs. The Daniels Family is no exception. Being unregenerate bibliophiles, one of our Christmas traditions, naturally, is collecting Christmas books, which we tote out in early December and keep around throughout the season in order to be read and enjoyed again and again.
The collection is now comprised of well over twenty books. They're all enjoyable and each has a particular significance for us. But some of them are especially loved.
In fact, parting from my usual habit of naming five favorite thises or thats, I found that I couldn't cull this list of favorites down below ten.
These books are all family, or even children's, books. But like the best books in these categories, they're no less meaningful or fetching for adults.
So, here they are, my ten favorite Christmas books.
1. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. Our son, now 23, read this book when he was in the third grade. He asked my wife and me to read some of it to him. We were so taken with it that we ran out and bought our own copy. On Christmas Day that year, as we drove to see relatives, my wife behind the wheel, I read the whole book aloud. I've repeated the performance virtually every year since.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever tells the story of the Herdman kids and how, hoping to get free cookies and other goodies, they became part of the church Christmas pageant. The Herdmans are the most raucous, uncontrolled, ill-behaved, and bad-mannered children you can imagine. For page after page, I still sometimes laugh until I hurt when I read about them.
All that laughter gives the touching ending of this book great impact. I can't read its final chapter without misting.
If you want a gentle, hilarious reminder of the true meaning of Christmas, as well as an insightful gander into the hypocrisy of church life, I recommend this book. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever truly is one of the best Christmas books ever.
2. Santa's Favorite Christmas Story by Hisako Aoki and Ivan Gantschev. This book, filled with beautiful, mixed-media illustrations, tells the story of what happens one cold December when the animals in the forest found Santa Claus sleeping. They become alarmed, fearing that Santa would be unprepared for his annual global trek and that Christmas would have to be cancelled.
But Santa assures them that, with or without him, Christmas will happen. "Christmas," Santa says, "hasn't got anything to do with me." Santa then proceeds to tell the animals his favorite Christmas story, that of the first Christmas.
For years now, I have been using this book for my children's messages on the Sundays just prior to Christmas. The book still mesmerizes and it gently challenges our consumerist Christmas, using jolly old Saint Nick to talk about the birth of the Christ Child.
3. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. I've yet to see the movie version of this book, which has been a favorite at our house since it was first published back in 1985. I wonder whether I'll like the film or not. The text is sparse and mysterious, the illustrations beautiful, adding to the text's mystery and wonder. This book is not so much about Christmas as it is about growing up and the ability to dream. I love it.
4. The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. (Ours is the Ideals Children's Book edition, 1989) O. Henry named his now-classic tale of Christmas gift-giving by a poor married couple after the magi--magicians or wise men--who came from the East to bring gifts to the Christ Child at Bethlehem. In this story, we learn about love and self-sacrifice, which really were the motivating reasons behind the mission of Jesus when He came into the world. (First Timothy 2:1-6) The poignant tale is enhanced by illustrations that evoke the era in which O. Henry wrote.
5. The First Christmas: A Festive Pop-Up Book by Tomie de Paola. This is the first of three books on my Christmas list from this first-rate and often-imitated artist and children's author. Here, de Paola has presents the story of the first Christmas with his typically stunning artistry, enhanced by the pop-up format. This is one to show your children until they're old enough to handle its delicate features.
6. The Clown of God by Tomie de Paola. This isn't a Christmas book, technically. But it is the story of a juggler who gives his greatest gift to the Christ Child. It is poignant and a call to each of us to give to the Savior Who has given everything to us!
7. The Legend of Old Befana by Tomie de Paola. This is one of several books de Paola created to honor his Old World heritage. Befana is a character, sometimes thought of as a witch, who plays a Santa character who leaves cookies and other goodies on the Twelfth Night of Christmas. De Paola adds his own whimsical touches to the old legend. This is a fun book.
8. Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect by Richard H. Schneider with illustrations by Elizabeth J. Miles. This book spins a legendary tale about how a once-perfectly shaped Christmas tree became imperfect, yet valued. It's a tale of self-sacrifice and compassion. It also encourages each of us to accept ourselves, imperfections and all. This is a wonderful story for children of all ages.
9. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. This wordless book tells the charming tale of a boy's adventures with a snowman. That may not sound like much. But it really is beautiful, the perfect book for cuddling up with your child in front of a fire just before you take them to their beds for evening prayers. (This book, by the way, has been made into an equally enchanting short film.)
10. The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. This is such a fun book! The Ahlbergs' central character, the Postman, delivers a series of cards and letters to people along his route. What's fun is that readers are able to open the items up, reading the notes the postman delivers. The book affords all the delight that people of the Victorian era must have felt as they rummaged through the nooks, crannies, and drawers of a giant desk. You'll never outgrow the delight of this book.
That's my list of ten favorite Christmas books for right now. Hopefully, this Christmas season we'll find another volume to add to our collection and our celebrations.
So, what are your favorite Christmas books? Use the "Comments" button below to tell me.