Over the next week I want to post some of my favorite Advent ideas, and thought I would start with the tradition we started four or five years ago in our house, and has become a favorite. Over the years, I have collected various Christmas books. One year I decided that instead of simply reading them throughout the Advent season, I needed to make them a little more special. First, all of our Advent books and St. Nicholas books are packed up with the Christmas decorations. They are only taken out for Advent. This makes it a real treat for the kids when I pull them out. Now, instead of simply bringing them all out on November the 15th for the kids to read, I spend the days leading up to the 15th wrapping all of the books. I usually look for very inexpensive wrapping paper after Christmas (my current favorite is a red and white stripe candy cane looking paper), pack it up with my decorations along with a roll or two of tape, and then it is ready and waiting the following November. I don't do anything fancy, just wrap them up (no bows or tags or anything). We put our tree up on the 15th, and all the wrapped books go under the tree. Then, each day during Advent, the kids take turns choosing a book to open and I read it aloud that evening. Now, we do not have enough books for all 40 days of Advent, but since things come up and there are nights we don't get a chance to read, it all works out pretty well. Each year, I buy one or two new books and add them to the pile. The result is, the kids can't wait to open a book each night and find an old favorite, or maybe a new story. We have about 20 books now, so I know that we can roughly read one every other day, so we will alternate opening a new book with rereading one of the previously opened books. All the books stay under the tree, and the kids are free to come and read them during the day, but they are not to take them from the room. Then, when Theophany arrives, all the books are packed up for the next year. It is fun to see them develop favorites, and try to guess which package holds their favorite book, and the excitement when they open a book they may have forgotten about. If you are starting with only a few books, you could wait to start opening them until closer to the Nativity, or you could adjust it to just one per week until your collection grows.
Here is a list of some of our favorites. Most of them are Nativity stories or about St. Nicholas, but I do include a few traditional favorites I loved as a child.
Who is Coming to Our House - Joseph Slate - this is a great repetitive rhyme book, excellent for younger ones (though my 9 year old still loves to hear it too!). It tells the story of the animals in the stable preparing for Mary and Joseph to arrive. It is also available as a board book.
Long Was the Winter Road They Traveled - J. Patrick Lewis - this book is beautifully illustrated, and is also told in rhyme
The Very First Christmas - Paul L Maier - this is a great detailed explanation of the Nativity story, told by a mom answering questions from her 8yo son. It was a gift from my son's godmother, and is one of our favorites. It is very accurate and in line with the teachings of the Orthodox Church.
The Little Boy's Christmas Gift - John Spiers - illustrations inspired by the art of the Brueghels, the story of a poor boys offering to the Christ child (thanks to Erin for suggesting this one!)
What Can I Give Him? - Debi Gliori - sweet and simple, based on a poem by Rosseti, this is a great one to read to little ones (a gift from the little princess' godfather - Erin's hubby :)
Silent Night - Margaret Hodges - moving story of how this hymn came to be
The Miraculous Child - Alvin Alexsi Currier - Orthodox tale of a Russian Christmas miracle
The Saint Who Became Santa Claus - Evelyn Bence - great explanation of how Santa Claus came to be
The Legend of St. Nicholas - Demi - love this artist, beautiful illuminated illustrations and lots of stories of the life of St. Nicholas
The Miracle of St. Nicholas - Gloria Whelan - very moving tale of a Russian village that has not celebrated liturgy in 60 years, and how a little boy's questions lead to a miracle celebration
The Baker's Dozen - Aaron Shepard - a legend of a St. Nicholas miracle, the story of how 13 came to mean a baker's dozen
Saint Nicholas - Julie Stiegmeyer - again, great stories of the real St. Nicholas
The Nutcracker Ballet - any well illustrated version
The Night Before Christmas - Clement Clarke Moore