The first edition frontispiece and title page of “A Christmas Carol” dating back to 1843. Wikimedia image
The first edition frontispiece and title page of “A Christmas Carol” dating back to 1843. Wikimedia image

When Clement Clarke Moore wrote, “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” as a Christmas poem for his children in 1822 it’s unlikely he realized the influence it would have on the American Christmas and image of St. Nicholas, the Bishop of Myrna, known for helping the poor.

Today this iconic and well-loved poem is best known as, “The Night Before Christmas.” It was written during a time when Christmas celebrations were quiet family affairs, if celebrated at all, and gift-giving wasn’t common.

Clarke portrayed the generous St. Nicholas, known among the Dutch as Sinterklass, as a jolly, portly, red-cheeked elf and the American Santa Claus took on life. Over time, Christmas became focused on Santa, children, gift-giving, and, eventually, commercialism.

Of course, there are others who hold that with his 1843 classic, “A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens invented Christmas, while others say that he revived Christmas celebrations with his always relevant story about the transformation of the human spirit from “bah humbug!” to one of generosity, compassion and love as the heart of the Christmas season.

A quote from the timeless classic identifies Dicken’s inspiration: “It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.”

“As we contemplate the Christmas story,” said Pope Francis, “we are invited to set out on a spiritual journey, drawn by the humility of the God who became man in order to encounter every man and woman. We come to realize that so great is his love for us that he became one of us, so that we in turn might become one with him.”

The power of the written word to influence an understanding of Christmas is well-documented and is an opportunity Catholic families can embrace by engaging their children in holiday reading.

Establishing a tradition of reading together during Advent and Christmas provides time for questions and conversations about the meaning of Christmas, about waiting for the Lord with an open heart, about the Nativity and Incarnation, about giving and not just receiving.

Some Christmas Favorites for holiday reading

“Advent Storybook: 24 Stories to Share Before Christmas” by Antonie Schneider and Maja Dusikovaa, illustrator, is the story of Benjamin Bear who cannot wait for Christmas to come, so his mother tells him that every day when he opens a door on his Advent calendar, she’ll tell him a story about another little bear and his long journey to Bethlehem to see the Christ Child.

“The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry and P.J. Lynch, illustrator, is a classic tale of love and sacrifice as the most meaningful of Christmas gifts.

“Joy to the World” by Tomie dePaola is a favorite Christmas collection which includes the well-loved stories of “The Night of Las Posadas,” “The Story of the Three Wise Kings” and “The Legend of the Poinsettia.”

“The Donkey’s Tales: The Story of Jesus” by Adele Colvin and Peyton Carmichael, is a story about a grandmother donkey who carried Mary to Bethlehem and the donkey’s grandson who carried Jesus into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday.

“The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey” by Susan Wojciechowski and P.J. Lynch, illustrator, is a touching story about a widow and her son who ask reclusive woodcarver Jonathan Toomey to carve a Nativity scene for them in time for Christmas. What happens is a hopeful, joyful Christmas miracle.

“The Carpenter’s Gift: A Christmas Tale about the Rockefeller Center Tree” by David Rubel and Jim LaMarche, illustrator, a modern classic Christmas story which opens in Depression-era New York City, teaches children the spirit of the season by bringing together two great New York City traditions: the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and the neighbor-helping-neighbor program of Habitat for Humanity.

“Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem” by Maya Angelou and illustrators Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, inspires readers to embrace the peace and promise of Christmas in a poem about a family that joins with their very diversified community to celebrate the holidays.

“The Peace of Christmas: Quiet Reflections with Pope Francis,” published by Franciscan Media, offers adults the opportunity to reflect on the Incarnation as a reality of Catholic faith.

For other Christmas book ideas, visit these local booksellers: