Episode 126: Advent and Christmas Kick-Off: Reading Together through the Holidays

In this episode we talk about all things Advent and how to make this a special time with our families as we celebrate the birth of Christ. In order to prepare for Advent, we are sharing this early in the season so we can all be ready to go on December 1st.

Books Discussed in This Episode:

Transcript with Links:

Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that help us with everyday discipleship every day, sparking important conversations with our children. Today we’re gonna talk about Christmas, and I know we haven’t even reached Thanksgiving yet, but because we need to prepare for Advent and helping our children anticipate and prepare for the celebration of Christmas, we need to plan even more ahead than that. So I have a list of wonderful books to share with you today. I will also have the link to my annual Advent calendar of picture books and board books for you, it will be in the show notes of this episode. So in reality, we are gonna be covering a lot of books today, but I want to point out a few new books that have come out that are featured on my calendar, and then I want to share some books that we can use as parents, as families for advent devotionals, for prayer and for crafting through the holidays. So let’s jump into some fun in preparation for Christmas this year.

One of my new favorite picture books for Christmas is The King of Christmas by Todd R. Hains and illustrated by Natasha Kennedy. This book is such a fun story, such a fun take on the biblical Christmas story, and what I love about it is as we go through the story, a new person joins in as they’re looking for the Christ-child. And so I really love this book and I know you will enjoy it, and I have it on the calendar for you to add to your reading list for this advent season. Now on my calendar, we go clear through the end of the month because after Christmas, we have some great books to read that are gospel-centered, that are encouraging to families, and that bring in the wise men, because the wise men actually came to visit the Christ-child after the initial Christmas celebration of his birth. So we go clear to the end of the month, starting with December 1st through the 31st, and this year too on the calendar, I’m featuring almost exclusively Christian books. There are a few exceptions because there are some books out there that I just think are so much fun to read. And of course we could read 10 books a day and not read all the Christmas books that are out there, but I wanted to feature some really strong gospel-centered, Christ-centered, biblical-centered Christmas books that are out there that will encourage your family, that will open up some interesting conversations that will help your children to focus on why we celebrate Christmas and why it is important to keep Christ at the center of Christmas.

Now, each advent I look at all kinds of advent devotionals that I might want to use, and I usually choose one that I find for me personally I want to read through, and then one that I might want to share with my family or with children. This year, I’ve got several choices for you to use as a family. I am not sharing the ones that I found personally that I wanted to read, just because it’s too many to feature in one podcast. So from the ones I feature, I think you’ll be able to choose one that meets your family’s needs just right. I usually pray about “God, what do you want me to focus on this Christmas? What do you want our family to think about and focus on this Christmas?” And so that kind of guides me into which way I go each year, and I do the same thing with Lent, and devotionals leading up to Easter from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday, praying to see what the Holy Spirit wants to do with your family during this time, what you feel like you need to add as a mom or a dad to your family devotionals, then that will kind of guide you in choosing which one you should choose. So let me just share a few of them that I find really wonderful. This one book is called, There Really is a Santa Claus, The History of Saint Nicholas and Christmas Holiday Traditions by William J. Federer, and this isn’t really a devotional book, it’s more of a historical book, but it is so wonderful. And I will also have a link to him sharing on a podcast about the history of our Christmas traditions. So many people today are trying to say that we should not celebrate Christmas, that it is all pagan, and that just isn’t true. Yes, there are some pagan qualities, there are some other Pagan holidays celebrated at the same time, but from the beginning, Christians chose this time to celebrate Christmas, to celebrate Christ’s birth, and so there’s been a little bit of misunderstanding, a little bit of melding together and overlapping when Christians have never in history confused the two. They didn’t celebrate both the Pagan holiday and Christmas, they were celebrating the birth of Christ. And yes, Constantine did put dates of the celebrations in line with other Pagan holidays, but it never was part of that celebration. So I think that’s important. And then you can discern as a family if you need to draw back from all the hoopla of Christmas and have a quieter, simple Christmas, or if you can just fully embrace the Christmas celebration, whether or not you’re going to talk about Santa or not and all of those things, that’s really something that you as a family need to come together and decide what is best for you and your children and your family, but somehow I feel like we must find a way to really focus our hearts and minds on Christ and what God did for us in sending Christ to Earth and the sacrifice Christ knew he was going to make from the beginning of time. So that part has to be at the center, in my opinion. We’ve got to keep focusing on that. But my husband grew up in a family that loved Santa and did all the Santa stuff, and he still is a very strong Christian pastor who loves God with all his heart. And so we had that argument when we were first married because I felt like we shouldn’t even talk about Santa and we should just keep him out of it. So it’s been a struggle for us and a decision that we have had to battle with and wrestle with whether or not we wanted to have our children believing in Santa and all of those kinds of things. I do love the story of St. Nicholas. I love the history of St. Nicholas, but the modern day Santa Claus, that’s all about materialism and blackmailing children to be good, that kind of bothers me, so I don’t talk about that kind of stuff that much with my children. I don’t think I ever threatened them that they weren’t getting any presents for Christmas if they didn’t behave well, I don’t think I did, but you know. All right, so that book is really awesome.

Another one is The History of Christmas: 2000 Years of Faith, Fable, and Festivity, which is kind of like a textbook on the history of celebrations, and you might find that one fun to read. Now let’s look at some books that deal with making memories and celebrating Christmas as a family.

There are two books, A Jesus Christmas: Explore God’s Amazing Plan for Christmas, which is an interactive family advent devotional, complete with parent guide, discussion, questions, activities, and even space for journaling, and this is by Barbara Reaoch, and she also has A Better Than Anything Christmas: Explore How Jesus Makes Christmas Better, and again, this is another interactive family Advent devotional with all the trimmings. And so these are two options, you might do one this year and one next year. These are fairly new books that have come out. They’re available on Kindle as well if you’re interested in the digital version, so that’s one, and it has all kinds of ideas and activities and ways to make Christmas memorable for your family.

Another one is The 25 Days of Christmas: A Family Devotional to Help You Celebrate Jesus by James Merritt. And this one takes you through scripture from Genesis through the New Testament, and each devotional is a different message of keeping Christ at the center, acknowledging and preparing our hearts for what Christ came for, for salvation, for the gospel, and it’s beautiful. It’s illustrated really beautifully. This one to me is not for our really young children, it doesn’t have a lot of interaction and activity. It’s more straight devotionals that seem to appeal more to our older kids, especially if you have teenagers or young adult children that you’re sharing a devotional with. I think this one is really nice.

And then one devotional that is geared toward your younger children, but it doesn’t have as many interactions, it does have places to write some answers to questions. It does have some questions to discuss, but this one’s very colorful, has lots of good graphics for young children, and it’s called The Way to the Manger: A Family Advent Devotional by Jeff Land and Abbey Land. And so this is a really beautiful book that the children will enjoy looking through, whether they’re old enough to read or not. The pictures are really, really pretty, so that’s another one.

And then I love this one because I love approaching anything we’re doing as an adventure. And this one’s called The Adventure of Christmas: 25 Simple Family Devotions for December. And so this is meant to be very user friendly. It’s by Ed Drew and illustrated by Alex Webb-Peploe, and it is beautifully illustrated and it takes you on a journey through advent for the whole family. And this one to me is more geared toward your middle grade children, not as much your tiny toddler type children. So this one is a little bit for a mixture of ages or for middle grade through middle school, high school age. The illustrations are more sophisticated than the one that’s for the younger children, but it goes right through the biblical story, talks about some questions and what was going on some history, and it’s just really nice. And what I love, love, love about this one is they do have questions for different age groups, so if you do have toddlers, they have a question for the toddlers, if you have five to seven year olds over sevens and teens, they have questions broken down by age group, which I think is just wonderful for a family, because we don’t all just have toddlers or our children can be ranging in all different ages. And so we could gear different questions to different children and then they have “think and pray”, so you have a time to think about what has been read and then to pray. I think it’s just very nicely done, user friendly, and it does have some extra ideas that you can add such as baking or activities or different things you can do as a family to carry the lesson even further. And so I think that’s really wonderful with this one, and so this one would be great if you have a wide range of ages in your family, among your children, and you want to do some simple activities and not have to do a lot of prep for it. It’s just right there and really good for your daily advent devotionals.

Now, this one is focusing more on crafts, it’s Advent Devotions and Christmas Crafts for Families: 24 Scripture Reflections & Simple Projects to Anticipate Christ’s Birth, and this one’s by Victoria Duerstock. So this is really wonderful for those of you who are wanting to do more crafting with your children. You want to make some more memories in that way, this is possibly the book you should choose. It has a lot of photographs in it, more than most books I’ve seen. It has very short scripture, very short devotionals, and then it has a place to reflect. It asks a question but gives you places to write down the answers and the reflections that you have on each lesson or each devotional. And then we have our projects, we have our crafting, our cooking and gift making that we can give to people. And it’s just great to really get your kids involved in having a great time, making all these different things that could be for the family or could be a Christmas gift, so that part is really wonderful. By the time you finish this and you come up on Christmas, your children have created gifts they can give to family members, and so that’s just kind of cool.

And then there’s one, The Light Before Christmas, A Family Advent Devotional by Marty Machowski. It is a four week advent family devotional. The theme of them all is light and dark. This one’s a little different because it carries a story throughout the devotionals of 11 year old Mia and her grandmother as they prepare for Christmas. Kind of the center of that is the grandmother is blind, but she can see the light of Christmas, the light of Jesus shining brightly and helps Mia and of course your children to do the same, to focus on the light of Christmas. So it’s a really beautifully written devotional story kind of rolled into one, and I always love the theme of light at Christmas.

Another one is by Lizzie Laferton, The God of Amazing Gifts: Family Devotions for Advent, and so this is for the whole family anticipating the greatest gift, which is Christ. And it helps our kids to focus on what is important, what Jesus did for us, but also counting the cost of following him. What do we need that God gives us just what we need? So meeting our needs and choosing to follow Christ. And it’s divided into four parts, so each week is a different part, and then you have Christmas Day, God’s Christmas gift. And so I love the focus of this, it could really open up some great opportunities to talk with our children about all of the things that we say we want and what we need and what we really need, what is most important in life, and how we can share what God has given us with others, and that whole concept of focusing on the most important part of Christmas and not getting caught up in the materialism of Christmas.

And then we have An Advent Book of Days: Meeting the Characters of Christmas. I always love character studies. And this one is by Gregory Kenneth Cameron. This talks about all the different people in the story. It does deal with some of the traditions. This is more, I would say liturgical. Well, it uses a lot more of the words that we see in the church such as advent and annunciation and those kinds of words. It also talks about the history, St. Francis of Assisi and some of the different church leaders in the ancient Catholic church. So it is, I would say, a little more geared toward the Catholic or traditional liturgical traditions. So if that is your tradition, this one might be more along the lines of what you would like to read together. And I do love that it includes the artwork and the history of where some of our images of Christmas come from. It’s almost more sharing lessons than devotionals. It’s not so much scripture based, but historically based, and so I don’t know that I would do it as a devotional because it’s not really a devotional, but to just kind of, if you want to have that daily short history lesson with your kids, maybe you’re homeschooling and this would be something you would bring into your December. On that note, I do want to mention if you are a fan or a follower of Read Aloud Revival, every December she has her Christmas school for the homeschoolers, and I do the same thing with my literature students. When I was teaching literature all the time, we would take December and we would read Christmas literature and discuss Christmas literature, and you deal with all the things you’re dealing with. You know, the imagery, the irony, and all of the stuff that you do when you’re talking about literature, but we focus on some of the wonderful stories such as A Christmas Carol. So I choose the different short stories, the different novels that are based around Christmas, and we use those for our literature lessons during December. And so I love to take the different lessons we teach in school in December and just make it special, make it around Christmas and let the children have an opportunity to do something a little out of the ordinary.

The next one I want to share with you is a very unique book called The Promise and the Light: A Christmas Retelling by Katy Morgan, and this is a 25 chapter book, but you could use it as an advent reading with your family and just read a chapter a day. And so I wanted to share that with you cause it is the gospel story, it is the Bible story. It kind of helps draw you into the story more. Each part of it is presented as a first person account of the Christmas story told from each character’s life, and so that makes it kind of fun.

And I don’t want to forget to tell you about two books I’ve recommended before. Traci Smith has Faithful Families for Advent and Christmas. Her book has a hundred ways to make the season sacred. It’s helping to create those memories with our kids through all kinds of activities. She has several books that I’ve recommended and it is more traditional in most of the ways that she mentions to celebrate.

And then of course, we can’t forget our good friend Glenys Nellist, who has been on the program several times. She has her advent book out, which is ‘Twas the Season of Advent, and it’s devotions and stories for the Christmas season. She’s had the ‘Twas Series out for Easter, for Lent, for Advent, and for Christmas. I know that gives you a lot to think about, a lot to look at, but I think these books are really great. So take a look, see what you think.

If you find one you just love that I didn’t mention, please comment on our blog post. On my website, I have the podcast transcripts, and you can comment at the bottom of those transcripts, and we would love to hear what you have to say. What are some of the devotionals that you find really effective with your family? Do you use a new one every year or do you repeat one that has become really special to your family? I know both ways are great, so which way do you go and how has it affected your children as they’ve grown? Have you been able to open up some great conversations? So I hope you all are having a wonderful time preparing for Thanksgiving, that you have a blessed Christmas. We are going to take a few weeks off through the holidays from our podcast, but we will be back in January. We have some fantastic interviews to share with you and some great writers, an illustrator or two, and some really wonderful news coming up that we want to share with you. So please come back in January next week. We do have an interview to share with you, and after that, we will take our four week break and we will come back after Christmas with a New Year’s episode launching into 2023. We’re looking forward to it and we’re looking forward to a little break, and so we pray that you have a wonderful and blessed holiday season. Thank you for joining us for “Books That Spark,” where we encourage each other to live out everyday discipleship, helping to equip our children to follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you enjoyed this episode, please like and share on social media so people know we’re here and leave a review on one of the podcast host sites that would be really beneficial to us. And we truly, truly appreciate you for taking the time to do these things. We are glad you’re here, if you would like to connect with me, you can join my mailing list or comment on the episode at terriehellardbrown.com. We love to hear from you and we respond to every comment and question. We pray you feel empowered as a parent or caregiver to walk by faith and to embrace everyday discipleship every day with the children in your life.

Download: Picture Book Advent Calendar

Link to: Podcast featuring Bill Federer about Christmas History and Traditions

Link to: Read Aloud Revival’s Christmas School Information

Your Host: Terrie Hellard-Brown

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts discuss living as a disciple of Christ while parenting our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ and to use the nooks and crannies of our lives to disciple our children.

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be WONDERFUL” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

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