If you ask my three nearly grown-up children what their favorite part of Christmas is, you might be surprised at their answer.
One of their happiest memories involves reading Christmas stories by a cozy fire in the light of the Christmas tree.
A stack of Christmas books is always handy on the coffee table. Our books include a picture book that tells the Gospel story of Jesus’s birth, books about the snowy Christmas bear and the diabolical Grinch, a worn copy of “The Night Before Christmas,” and a storybook that includes “A Christmas Carol.”
We complain about Christmas commercialization and grow weary fighting traffic as we shop for the perfect gifts. Parties and dinners drain our energy as well as our pocketbooks.
Yet slowing down to read a child a Christmas story is the perfect antidote. It forces us to think peaceful thoughts of newborn Jesus sleeping warm and safe in his manger.
“The Christmas season is a multi-sensory opportunity with teachable moments wrapped in the coziness of the fireplace, family, candles, and stories,” says Katie Dawson, director of Parish Faith Formation for the Diocese of Orange. “It is a powerful family bonding time with multiple layers of benefits for children and their families. It’s a shame to waste it at the mall.”
No matter how tired they were, my three kids clamored for Christmas stories before bed. “Being snuggled up on the couch with mom and dad with a fire crackling and a stack of books is great recipe for memories that we carry to adulthood,” she says.
The amazing tale of the first Christmas ranks as a treasured story, she notes. “It doesn’t hurt that the angels are pretty spectacular and amazing.”
Parents underestimate their children’s comprehension, she adds. “We think kids can’t grasp the depth of the Christmas story, but they are capable of being deeply moved by the idea that God entered into a humble existence and wants to be their friend,” she notes. “Reading the Bible is one of the tools mom or dad has to nurture their children’s beliefs about who God calls them to be.”
Dawson says parents should read age-appropriate Bible stories to children year-round. “Gospel stories or fables with illustrations explain the Christian message,” she says.
Besides reading stories together, many families sing hymns at the holiday season. “There is great music at Christmas that focuses on the birth of Jesus,” Dawson says. “’The Little Drummer Boy,’ ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ – there is a wonderful body of music to share with kids that ranges across human emotions.”
My kids would happily sing Christmas hymns and songs with me, ranging from “The 12 Days of Christmas” to “Angels We Have Heard on High.” They joyfully joined me in singing about angels, wise men and the newborn baby Jesus.
Stressed-out parents, Dawson notes, must remember that the true season of Christmas ends on Epiphany. “We have at least 12 days to celebrate,” she concludes. “That means if you don’t get all your cookies made by December 25, you can still make them that day and beyond.”