Whether you are Christian, Pagan, or Jewish, or whether you celebrate Kwanzaa or a very secular Santa Clause-and-tinsel sort of holiday season, no one in the Northern Hemisphere can fail to notice that the time leading up to this Season is marked by the days growing shorter and the nights lasting longer.
It is a season of candles and fires in the fireplace, of good food, and celebrations with friends and family. It is a season of being just a little bit kinder to everyone, of gifts and giving, of spreading light in the darkness.
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Witch though I am, both my husband and I grew up celebrating Christmas, and still celebrate the holiday; Santa comes to our house on Christmas Eve, the stockings are hung by the chimney with care, and we have an The Elf on the Shelf–George.
Now, George is not one of those mischievous sort of elves. He does not toilet paper the Christmas tree, nor does he replace the stockings with underwear. Okay, honestly, he’s lucky if he remembers to find a new hiding place after his nightly trip to report to Santa!
He does, however, have one trick up his sleeve. Sometime before Thanksgiving, George sneaks into the house and takes all the holiday/ winter-type books… and a few movies, along with a few new books. He wraps them up (using reused brown paper bags, and sheets of saved tissue-type paper!), and labels one for each day from the day after Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve. We save the labels in a Mason jar so he can use them again the next year.
Then, every evening, we open one book and read it. We love this holiday tradition. And we enjoy taking the time to learn about the traditions of other people.
Here is our Book List for this year:
November 29 — The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition. Have you ever wondered how Santa knows whether you’ve been naughty or nice? He sends an elf to watch you. The elf is hiding somewhere in your house and all you have to do is look for him or her! Every evening the elf goes back to Santa to report on all the good (or bad) things you’ve done throughout the day. And the next day the elf is (ahem… hopefully) hiding in a new spot! Very cute, rhyming book!
November 30 — The Story of Hanukkah. The title says it all… from the history of the holiday to how people celebrate today. Plus it includes a recipe for Latkes (don’t use canola oil, please!) and instructions on how to play Dreidel.
December 1 — Lights of Winter: Winter Celebrations Around the World. From the more well-known Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza, to the ancient celebrations of Satrunalia and Zagmuk, this book gives a short description of the different ways people around the world have celebrated light in the darkness of winter. Older children (and their parents) can take time to compare and contrast the different celebrations.
December 2 — Jeremy’s Dreidel. Jeremy signs up for a dreidel making workshop and makes a special dreidel for his father who is blind. This book touches on some of the history of Hanukkah, and gives instructions for making some of the different dreidels Jeremy’s friends made (along with the rules of the game.) Jeremy also explains a little bit about what it’s like to be blind, how his father can do most of the same things that other fathers do, and (in a moment that brings tears to my eyes every time I read it) how we really need to be aware of other people’s limitations and strengths.
December 3 — Dr. Seuss – How the Grinch Stole Christmas (DVD). This is the old, cartoon version. Love it!
December 4 — One Winter’s Day. A storm comes and Little Hedgehog’s house is blown away. As he makes his way through the cold, snowy woods to Badger’s house, Little Hedgehog comes across other friends shivering in the snow… and one by one, he gives them his hat, scarf, and mittens. So sweet. Plus, I really love hedgehogs.
December 5 — The Baker’s Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale. Van Amsterdam, a baker in the Dutch colony town later known as Albany, New York, was known for being honest. But when an old woman comes into his shop insisting at a dozen is really thirteen, he insisted that all his customers got exactly what they paid for–no more, no less. She puts a curse on his shop… and it takes a special message from Saint Nicholas himself to teach Van Amsterdam that he should give more to people. Saint Nicholas’s Day is December 6th — perhaps you can plan on baking cookies in the morning!
December 6 — A Charlie Brown Christmas (DVD). It wouldn’t be Christmas with out Charlie Brown!
December 7 — Stranger in the Woods: A Photographic Fantasy. There is a stranger in the woods? Who could it be? Woodland animals investigate the snowman in the woods. This book is full of gorgeous photographs of animals in the snowy woods–from whitetail deer, to owls, songbirds, and even a porcupine!
December 8 — This Is the Star. Beautifully written and illustrated, this is a cumulative tale of the Christmas Story. I love this one.
December 9 —How the Grinch Stole Christmas! You can’t have Christmas without the Grinch, either. “‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!”‘
December 10 — Frosty the Snowman. I dare you not to sing it!
December 11 —The Christmas Hat. Little Owl was just a tiny baby when Rabbit and Badger found him in the woods… and promised to take care of him. And Little Owl turned out to be quite a handful… especially when the snow came and his white feathers hid him perfectly! Rabbit decided to make him a bright Christmas hat to help her see where he was and what he was doing–and it almost ended in disaster! A cute story about families that might not “match” but still love each other!
December 12 — Lucia, Saint of Light. This book shows a Swedish-American household celebrating Saint Lucia day. It tells the story of Saint Lucia, a martyred Roman girl, and how she came to be the patron saint of Sweden. The book includes Saint Lucia’s song, a recipe for traditional Lucia Cat Buns, and links to a number of online resources. Saint Lucia’s Feast Day is December 13th. This book is new to our collection this year because it really is more appropriate to older kids.
December 13 — Santa Claus: Movie. I remember my parents taking us to the movies to see this–kind of a big deal for us! So I make my kids watch it at Christmastime!
December 14 —The Winter Solstice. This book shares stories about how people around the world used to celebrate the Winter Solstice, as well as the earth-and-sun reason the days grow short at this time of year.
December 15 —The Polar Express. This is another one guaranteed to bring tears to my eyes…
December 16 — Christmas For Isaiah. From local author/illustrator Shella Shubuck: “When little Ruby receives an unexpected Christmas present from her friend Isaiah, the donkey, she feels really bad because she doesn’t have a gift to give him in return. Ruby is at a loss for what to give him. Then she remembers his favorite things and realizes it’s not what you spend, it’s the thought that’s put into it. She gets to work and decides to bring Christmas to her friend. What she doesn’t anticipate is bad weather. When dinnertime comes and there’s no Ruby to be found, her family is worried. Seeing how bad the weather is they set out to find her. They find Ruby safe in a manger with Isaiah, and are all together to celebrate Christmas. Being together, in a family of love… the true gift of Christmas.” We especially love the illustrations–a combination of hand-sculpted characters, photography, and watercolor. And that we met the author while we were getting our Christmas tree!
December 17 — Bear Stays Up for Christmas. One of the the Boy’s first favorite books was Bear Snores On… and this is more of our beloved Bear, this time being awoken from his hibernation to celebrate Christmas with his friends! Bear is soooo sleepy, but he manages to stay up for Christmas… and get his friends’ presents ready on time, too!
December 18 —The Mitten. Niki’s grandmother warns him that if he loses a white mitten in the snow it will be hard to find! As it turns out, a number of animals find it–and squeeze inside–before Niki finds his white mitten again!
December 19 — Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story. This story, about seven brothers who argued all the time, was written especially for Kwanzaa. In order to receive their inheritance, the brothers had to turn seven spools of thread into gold–and do it without arguing! This story incorporates the seven values of Kwanzaa, but you have to look for them!
December 20 — Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas (DVD). Another Christmas Favorite!
December 21 —The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice. Another book about ancient Solstice Celebrations and filled with modern scientific information. This book is full of beautiful descriptions of the seasons should strike Pagans and nature lovers, alike. “For more than 5,000 years people have welcomed the winter solstice because it’s a new beginning.”
December 22 —The Christmas Story. A very traditional telling of the Christmas Story.
December 23 — Christmas Day in the Morning. A beautifully written story, guaranteed to make you cry. It is the story of a boy growing up on a farm, who suddenly wishes he had gotten his father something special for Christmas.
December 24 —The Night Before Christmas. “‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…” My dad used to read this to us every Christmas Eve… and now I read it to my kids.
2016 Update: As the kids are getting older, George (and his sister Genevieve, who joined our family last year!) have been swapping out some of the simplest books for ones with a bit more story to them. They brought Christmas From Heaven: The True Story of the Berlin Candy Bomber, which took place during the Berlin Airlift, and Tallulah’s Nutcracker, because the Pixie loves ballet and was in her first performance of the Nutcracker last year.
Are any of your favorite holiday books on my list? Do you have any books to recommend?
I hope you all have a wonderful Holiday Season. Wishing you a Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Yule, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, and the Warmest Winter Evenings.
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