One of the best ways that parents and children can get into the Christmas spirit is to spend time reading Christmas books! There are many excellent choices. Here are just a few that are definitely worth a look.
“The Clown of God,” written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola is a beautifully illustrated book that retells a traditional story. Giovanni is an orphaned beggar boy who earns his food by juggling. Before long, Giovanni becomes a famous performer who travels across Italy.
In his last years of life, however, he once more becomes a poor beggar as his juggling skills decline and crowds begin to mock him. He finally returns to his hometown on a cold, rainy Christmas Eve and seeks refuge in the brightly lit church, where a procession of gifts is happening.
Giovanni also wants to offer a gift to Jesus, so he decides to juggle one last time. His final — and best — performance is offered as a birthday gift to the serious Christ Child on his mother’s lap.
After old Giovanni falls to the ground, the priest and brother see that the statue of the child is now smiling and holding one of Giovanni’s juggling balls. This story is a great reminder to all of us that our gifts, talents and skills come to fulfillment when they are offered to God.
“The Miracle of Saint Nicholas” by Gloria Whelan and illustrated by Judith Brown, is a Christmas story that takes place in Russia. The local Orthodox church was shut down many years ago by atheist communists, but now a young boy named Alexi wants the town to celebrate Christmas inside it again.
Alexi sweeps out the dusty church, and the townspeople take notice, beginning to share in his excitement. From talking with his babushka, grandmother, Alexi realizes that the church is missing many important items: candles, altar cloths, bread and wine, the icon of St. Nicholas and a priest.
He believes, however, that the celebration of Christmas will once again happen at the church. And indeed, Alexi discovers that the persecuted Christians of his town have preserved the faith (and the priest!) throughout the years.
Illustrated with lovely watercolors, the book shows how the Christian faith can be remembered, though hidden, and rekindled in the Christmas celebration. It is a great reminder to all of us that being Christian is not always easy. With the villagers’ perseverance in faith, hope and love, added to Alexi’s desire and courage to celebrate in the church, Christmas always wins out in the end.
“Merry Christmas, Strega Nona,” written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola is an excellent book for Catholic children because it includes a portrayal of Advent, as well as Christmas. Strega Nona, or Grandma Witch, faithfully lights the candles on her Advent wreath as she works hard to prepare for Christmas.
Big Anthony, who helps Strega Nona, gets tired of the hard work and would prefer that she just use her magic to get ready for the Christmas feast she is hosting. When the big day finally comes, it looks like Strega Nona must cancel her Christmas Eve party, due to the ever-irresponsible Anthony.
She prays before the Nativity set at the church, noting sadly that she will be alone on Christmas, much like Jesus. It turns out, however, that Anthony has been listening to Strega Nona and has organized the feast himself as a gift.
This story reminds us, using Strega Nona’s words, that, “Christmas has a magic of its own.” No matter how extensive our preparations — cleaning, cooking, buying gifts — we are not ultimately responsible for the joy of Christmas.
— Maria Morrow
(Morrow is the mother of six and adjunct professor of Catholic Studies at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.)