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    Books & Reading, Other Thoughts

    The Greatest Christmas Book Tradition Ever

    October 23, 2017 by Dawn Duran

    Don’t throw tomatoes — I know. It’s waaay too early to start talking Christmas. In my house we have a “not until Thanksgiving is over” rule, but we thought I should highlight our family Christmas Book tradition here at Afterthoughts before Thanksgiving in the event that any of you would like to adapt it for use in your own homes. Hence — this Christmas post in October.

    You have doubtless heard of families that wrap Christmas books as if they are Christmas presents and open one a day between December 1 and December 25 as a count down to Christmas Day. Many of you may think this tradition isn’t something you could manage due to the time involved in wrapping said books. I’m right there with you! So when I ran across an idea online when my oldest was 4 (nearly 6 years ago — how did that happen?) I jumped on it — and this tradition has been easily (and joyfully!) implemented in our home ever since. Mind you — it does take some prep work to make it happen, but it is a one-time investment as opposed to a repeated annual task. Intrigued? Keep reading for the “how-to.”

    I purchased muslin produce bags (mine are 12″x15″, which is too large for many books, and just right for others), green and red ribbon, fabric glue, seasonal rubber stamps, number rubber stamps, and ink pads. I stamped each muslin bag with a large image in the center and glued a ribbon an inch from the bottom. Under the ribbon I stamped a number — 1 through 25 — to indicate upon which day of December we would open the bag. Finally, I inserted a Christmas-themed book (or two…) into every bag before lining them up in order inside a “basket.” The books are ready to go for every day of December, and my sons take turns opening the bags on alternate days. They can’t wait until bedtime, though, so we open them upon waking in the morning and read them over breakfast — and often multiple additional times over the course of the day.

    We have some books that are on our shelves year-round, but the majority of books in these bags are reserved for the month of December in our home. This makes them highly anticipated and a source of great joy every December, and this is a tradition the boys start to talk about well in advance every year.

    After the initial time-investment, there is very little I need to do to keep up this happy tradition. Before I put the books in storage at the end of the season I reconsider the order that I think would be best to open the books in next year while the memory of how they were received during the current season is fresh in my mind. Then I put our basket of books inside a Rubbermaid tote for storage between Christmas seasons to keep them well-protected. and they’re ready to go when I take them out of storage on November 30 every year.

    I wish I could give credit where credit is due, but for the life of me I am unable to locate the blog post that provided the initial inspiration for this family tradition. If you happen to find it, please let me know, because I’d like to extend a personal thanks to the person who inspired this well-loved and life giving “liturgy” in the Duran Family home!

    Here is my (ever growing) list of the books inside our Christmas Book Bags. I tend to change the order every year, and this is how the line-up turned out for 2017 when I packed things away on December 31, 2016:

    Other books we enjoy during this season include:

    Do you have a similar tradition? I’d love to hear about it! And please let us know some of your favorite Christmas books in the comments.

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  • Reply Jeannette Tulis October 28, 2023 at 4:51 pm

    Dawn, my friend! What a lovely post. I did this for my children for years and years and years. Here is my dutch thrifty version. I would purchase after Christmas some printed Christmas themed tissue paper. A couple of sheets is what it took to wrap each book. I did not use tape but tied each book with re-usable red, or green or white yarn. They looked very pretty in a basket. I did not number them but one could. I just let my children pick one each morning. My children learned to unwrap in such a way that the paper could be re-used. So many new to me titles in your stack. I would also recommend Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant, and all the Christmas books by Patricia Polacco and Virginia Kahl. I have maybe twenty board feet of Christmas books in my library, about 2/3 are picture books. I find new favorites every year. Alas, my children are out of the house but I have my little kindergarten class so I am still reading all the picture books.

  • Reply Pippy November 26, 2022 at 11:57 am

    Thanks for this, Dawn! We will be getting some of these!!!

    One of our favourites is The Lion, the Unicorn and Me, by Jeannette Winterson. The language is beautiful and surprising. Brings a year to my eye every year.

  • Reply Carrie November 19, 2021 at 6:39 am

    I too could not imaginr wrapping the books every uear. We committed 14 years ago when we got married to never purchase gift wrap/bags/disposable items. (Instead I have made cloth bags and we recycle paper gift bags and ribbon given to us). My kids devour books and how do you just pick 24! So I purchased a few yards of red fabric and made lots of different sized bags. We tie them with jute and I painted wooden gift tages with the numbers. We could down, opening bag 25 first so we also wrote on the back what date each bags gets opened incase we miss a day. Christmas day is always the bible (we read the Christmas story) and a cute picture book. We have a few favorites that come out every year and then throughout the year I keep an eye out at thrift stores and add new titles to our collection.
    I love your idea of packing them when you put them away! I will have to see how to incorporate that this year. I usually spend a long evening with all the books on my bed or living room floor deciding what order and which books. I like to match them up with things we are doing. So maybe a few gingerbread books leading up to the day we make our gingerbread houses.

    • Reply Dawn Duran November 19, 2021 at 11:11 am

      Thank you for sharing, Carrie. I am glad to hear another family has enjoyed this tradition, and your gift tags sound lovely!

  • Reply Holland Rowe December 5, 2020 at 1:46 pm

    My favorite is Are see
    you missing baby Jesus?

  • Reply Karen Moy November 29, 2020 at 2:21 pm

    GREAT idea! Have wanted to do this, but NOT the wrapping. We just keep our Christmas books out on shelves all year after our latest move — finally made the bookshelf space (too many heavy tubs in the attic!). Also, I suggest:
    – board book – The Little Drummer Boy, Ezra Jack Keats
    – chapter book – The Light at Tern Rock, Julia Sauer (Newberry honor book)
    – picture book, longer text – Grandfather’s Christmas Tree, Keith Strand
    – picture book, longer text – The Other Wise Man, Henry Van Dyke
    – chapter book, A Christmas Gift, Glendon Swarthou
    – picture book, Winter’s Gift, Jane Monroe Donovan — especially timely if a grandfather or grandmother has died that year

    • Reply Dawn Duran November 30, 2020 at 2:26 am

      Ezra Jack Keat’s The Little Drummer Boy is one of my very favorites, Karen! The reasons are twofold: 1) his “The Snowy Day” is one picture book I clearly remember reading as a child myself, and 2) I have special memories of listening to The Little Drummer Boy on my Nana’s record player repeatedly as we sang it together every Christmas season. I’m familiar with “The Other Wise Man,” but the other titles are new to me. Thanks for sharing, my friend!

      • Reply Karen Moy November 30, 2020 at 12:59 pm

        Agreed about Snowy Day — also a family favorite for us. As of the last official report, it is THE most checked out book in the history of the NY public library. In addition, I appreciate that the main character is African-American, which was groundbreaking, both in that he was not a caricature, and at the same time, it did not matter what race the child is (or was) — it seems to hold universal appeal in capturing how we respond to snow as small children. I like the collage art forms and the winsome qualities of the characters in appearance.

        Another favorite picture book — The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story, Gloria Houston (and a favorite illustrator of mine, Barbara Cooney. Others we know have appreciated the story element of a deployed military father.

  • Reply Savannah Rogers November 15, 2020 at 7:11 am

    I have a wonderful stack of Christmas books, too, but somehow I’ve missed every single one of yours!! Now I’m inspired to update my box and tradition, thank you. There may need to be two tubs that alternate each year. Or maybe we can add in a Christmas in September tradition to get me in the mood to start planning! (July is way to hot here, and too close to all our August birthdays, ha ha.)

    • Reply Brandy Vencel November 19, 2020 at 3:34 pm

      I would love to know some of your favorites! Even though my kids are big now, I try to add at least one new one to my collection each year.

    • Reply Dawn Duran November 19, 2020 at 4:48 pm

      I’m glad to introduce you to some new titles, Savannah! When we first started this tradition I was scrambling to find enough books to fill all the bags. Now most days have 2-3 books in them. I love the idea of alternating years, though!

  • Reply Don't be the White Witch (Thoughts on Advent and Christmas Traditions) | Afterthoughts December 21, 2019 at 8:08 am

    […] Click here for Dawn’s amazing Christmas Picture Book tradition. […]

  • Reply Laura December 11, 2018 at 9:49 pm

    True confessions of a real cheap-skate: I got (almost) all of these from the library, stuck them in plastic grocery bags Sharpied with the appropriate number, and stacked them in an old cardboard box by the tree. Lovely they are not, but we’ve started a good, new tradition in a difficult season of life, and it cost me maybe 15 minutes with a Sharpie and the gas it took to get to the library and pick up my huge stack of holds. Totally worth it – thank you for inspiring me to do this. It is bringing consistency and anticipation into what has been a time of anxiety and upheaval for us, and I’m so thankful to you for making it so simple and easy.

    • Reply Susan Everett October 29, 2023 at 10:54 am

      What a great idea – and you don’t have an extremely heavy box of books to haul up and down stairs every year like some of us. 🙂

  • Reply Lindsay December 6, 2018 at 7:36 am

    I am so happy I found this post! I have been wanting to start the book advent tradition with our family but, the time it takes to wrap the books aside, I didn’t love the idea of using all of that wrapping paper just to throw away afterwards. This is such a more environmentally responsible alternative. And the bags are beautiful too! Thank you!

  • Reply Rebecca December 4, 2018 at 8:02 pm

    This is such an excellent list! Thank you for sharing, Dawn!

    • Reply Dawn Duran December 5, 2018 at 2:22 am

      You’re welcome, Rebecca! Happy collecting!

  • Reply Kris November 5, 2018 at 5:10 pm

    I have looked at lots of Christmas book lists, and yours is by far the best I’ve found. The stories are rich and meaningful. You’ve introduced me to many new titles. Thank you!

  • Reply Ruth Arnell October 5, 2018 at 11:27 am

    Bright Christmas: An Angel Remembers by Kate Kiesler. We’ve done this tradition for years now, so I’ve read countless Christmas books and it is my absolute favorite.

    A few others would be A Small Miracle by Peter Collington, the First Christmas by Jan Pienkowski, Refuge by Ann Booth, The Nativity by Julie Vivas, Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story by Sally Lloyd-Jones, and The Last Straw by Frederick H. Thury.

    Now I’m going to go check out all the books on your list I don’t have. ??

  • Reply Annalisa November 10, 2017 at 4:35 am

    Hi, Thank you for your amazing post!!! I have so much wanted to start this tradition with our dear, sweet children ever since I learned about it. The hardest part is getting all those books wrapped, so I was so excited to learn how you do it in your house. I was going to get the supplies to make the bags before December and just had a question on the bag size. I used the link you gave for those and the size is 11/15 instead of 12/15. Do you think that 1″ difference at the top should still work ok?

    • Reply Dawn Duran November 10, 2017 at 2:15 pm

      I do think it will, Annalisa, and still leave plenty of room to spare. Enjoy!

  • Reply Suanna November 4, 2017 at 5:33 am

    We’ve done this the last few years. Sometimes our older children have wrapped the books for us and other times I just bring out one or two everyday from my room to add to the basket under the tree for reading up until Christmas. You had a few books in your list that I haven’t seen and will be checking out. One of our favorites because of its silliness is “Richard Scary’s: The Night Before-the Night Before Chrismas”

    • Reply Dawn Duran November 4, 2017 at 4:57 pm

      Oh, that’s another title that my boys love. We are huge Richard Scarry fans in our house. Thanks for sharing, Suanna!

  • Reply Tiffany Prather November 1, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    Wonderful suggestions, Dawn! Thank you.
    I thought you may be interested in “our” Christmas book tradition. Jostein Gaarder (author of Sophie’s World) wrote a wonderful book called “The Christmas Mystery”, which is read one chapter per day, like an Advent Calendar. Like many of his books, it is a tale that is layered in time, memory, and fiction that inevitably and magically collides with reality.
    I hope you and your family get a chance to enjoy this one 🙂

    • Reply Dawn Duran November 2, 2017 at 2:32 am

      Thanks for sharing, Tiffany! I read The Christmas Mystery in 2015 and enjoyed it. I do plan to use it as a family read one Advent season, but currently we really enjoy reading Arnold Ytreeide’s Advent series. I had limited this post to picture books – but maybe it should morph into chapter books as well! Thanks for the idea!

  • Reply Alisha October 31, 2017 at 7:07 pm

    Thank you for SO many good book suggestions (and the wonderful bag suggestion)! We love Apple Tree Christmas!

    • Reply Dawn Duran November 1, 2017 at 9:22 am

      I’m not familiar with that one, Alisha. Thanks! I’m off to look it up:).

  • Reply Erika October 29, 2017 at 6:01 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! Can’t afford to set that up for this year, but I’ve saved this post to work on next year. Can’t wait to look at the book list this afternoon! Our December collection is a major work in progress…..

    • Reply Dawn Duran October 30, 2017 at 11:31 am

      You’re welcome, Erika. I’m glad that it inspired you!

  • Reply Brenda October 28, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    Jonathan Toomey is a big favorite in our house! So many books on this list I have never heard of – can’t wait to choose a few to add to our collection this year.

    • Reply Dawn Duran October 29, 2017 at 5:21 pm

      Be sure to come back and tell us how you enjoyed them, Brenda!

  • Reply Amanda Roby October 27, 2017 at 7:28 am

    The muslin bags are so beautiful, but it would cost $48+ to buy them! (The medium sized bags are 11 x 15 inches and are $12 for 6 on Amazon as of today.) What’s a budget-starved girl to do? Get crafty! Muslin is about $2 a yard online at JoAnn Fabric. Since the muslin is 36 inches wide, I can probably get 3 bags per yard, but to be safe, I’d buy 9 yards. I’ll still pay less than $20. If you are familiar with how a sewing machine works, I’m fairly certain you could do this! Start by cutting your fabric into 18 inch by 12 inch rectangles. For each rectangle, you’ll hem the top and bottom (shorter ends). Fold in half to bring the hemmed ends together, then stitch up the sides. Turn inside out so your stitches don’t show. If you want to sew in a pocket for a drawstring your bag might be a little shorter to allow for the pocket. With 36 inch fabric, your bags would be about 11 x 17, a little larger than the medium sized bags on Amazon, but a little skinnier than Dawn’s. The best part is that now you’ll have about $30 left over to spend on books! Ha!

    • Reply Dawn Duran October 27, 2017 at 11:10 am

      Thanks for the wonderful inspiration to make this project even more personalized – and budget-friendly! I love it, Amanda!

  • Reply Hayley Beck October 26, 2017 at 9:16 pm

    I am one of *those* people that actually tried wrapping books before I packed them away one year. And that was the one and only time I did it. Now I just bring them in from a tub in the garage and each day we pull a book out. Quite a few on your list are in our Christmas tub! So many picture books melt my heart.

    Oh, and I’m not throwing tomatoes … we sing Christmas songs all year long — after all, the Christmas story is not just limited to December. It’s a story in our hearts all year long!

    • Reply Dawn Duran October 27, 2017 at 11:09 am

      Amen, Hayley!!

  • Reply Amber October 23, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    Every year our Rubbermaid container that holds the Christmas books gets heavier and heavier…. and my poor husband has to heave it up the ladder and into our only storage area. You have some of our favorites on your list, but also some I haven’t heard of, so I may have to do a little shopping. (My poor husband! LOL)

    Last year Brandy linked to a few that looked wonderful, but were pretty expensive by the time I got around to looking for them. I set up a todo item for myself in my todo app to check for the books in July, and I was able to buy all four for a total of $16, including shipping!

    • Reply Dawn Duran October 24, 2017 at 2:44 am

      Wow! Thanks for sharing that tip, Amber. It sounds like you got an incredible deal on some excellent titles to add to your collection!

  • Reply Sarah October 23, 2017 at 4:21 pm

    Yay, this is just the tradition I’ve been living looking for! A few of our favorites (from my childhood, and now with my own kids) are “Star Mother’s Youngest Child” by Louise Morris and “Certain Small Shepherd” by Rebecca Caudill. I don’t think I can get through either without crying. 🙂

    • Reply Sarah October 23, 2017 at 4:30 pm

      Louise Moeri! Autocorrect. :/

      • Reply Dawn Duran October 24, 2017 at 2:48 am

        Oooooo – thank you for the recommendation of the Moeri book, Sarah. I had never heard of it – and it is illustrated by one of my favorites: Trina Schart Hyman!!

    • Reply Christy December 5, 2018 at 3:48 am

      Love a Certain small Shepard, glad I’m not the only one that cried!

    • Reply Christy December 5, 2018 at 3:52 am

      Thanks for sharing! My husband is from Mexico and my sister in law from Russia, can’t wait to add these!

  • Reply Liz October 23, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    I recommend this book that compiles the Christmas stories from the Little House books!

  • Reply Liz October 23, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    I am an adult but I love getting holiday books from the library, and putting them under the tree, to pick up and read as I have a chance!

    • Reply Dawn Duran October 24, 2017 at 2:53 am

      I have the Little House collection, too, Liz and we love it. I didn’t include my chapter books in this list – those have an entire shelf to themselves:). Thank you for the other recommendations – I just purchased Nine Days to Christmas for my children to learn more about their Mexican heritage. We also like Tomie Depaola’s The Night of Las Posadas.

    • Reply Erika October 31, 2017 at 11:04 am

      Oh, yes! I’m making a list in my library account right now! Thanks for the tip!

  • Reply Sharron October 23, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    What a great idea! I’ve done the wrapping the last couple if years but really hated how much paper it took! I’m going to sew some bags big enough to just fold over so I don’t have to mess with a draw string. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Reply Dawn Duran October 23, 2017 at 2:54 pm

      You’re welcome! That’s a great idea!

  • Reply Nelleke October 23, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    I love this post! We do this too, and I don’t mind wrapping. 🙂 I actually get many of the books we use at our local library. This isn’t as hard as it sounds, as I am able to make lists online, and just go through and reserve them once a year. There are quite a few titles here that I don’t know, and I’m looking forward to checking them out. Pearl S. Buck’s Christmas Day in the Morning is my personal favourite so far.

    • Reply Dawn Duran October 23, 2017 at 1:24 pm

      What a neat way to have all the books without the cost, Nelleke! I love it!

  • Reply Rebecca October 23, 2017 at 10:48 am

    While we don’t wrap all of our Christmas books, I do store them with our Christmas decorations. When the decorations come out, so do the books. I try to add to the pile each year, so usually around mid December we come home to a wrapped book for each child. You have some on your list that I am not familiar with, so I will check them out!

    • Reply Dawn Duran October 23, 2017 at 11:38 am

      Let us know if you end up falling in love with something new, please, Rebecca (i.e., the books that aren’t familiar to you).

  • Reply Jess Smith October 23, 2017 at 10:11 am

    Love this, Dawn! Now I have to go buy more Christmas books! I have some of these great titles and will have to grab some of the others!!

    • Reply Dawn Duran October 23, 2017 at 2:56 pm

      Christmas books are soooo hard to resist. Let me know which ones you decide to add to your collection, please!

  • Reply Brittney McGann October 23, 2017 at 9:04 am

    Dawn, this is such a lovely tradition! And I am so glad you posted it in October. I am totally doing this.

    • Reply Dawn Duran October 23, 2017 at 11:40 am

      Yay! I’m so glad it inspired you to give it a try, Brittney. Please be sure to report back/share pictures in December!

  • Reply Joy October 23, 2017 at 8:22 am

    What a beautiful tradition! Thank you for sharing and in such detail. 🙂

    • Reply Dawn Duran October 23, 2017 at 11:41 am

      Thanks, Joy!

  • Reply Laura in Ontario October 23, 2017 at 7:14 am

    This is wonderful Dawn, thank you!

    I am going to have fun taking a closer look at your book list…we already do have quite a few Christmas books but I still like to get one new one every year, and most of the ones you’ve listed are unfamiliar to me. I love choosing a new book each year!

    • Reply Dawn Duran October 23, 2017 at 11:44 am

      I have very much enjoyed collecting these books over time, too, Laura – and still add new ones to our collection every.single.year. Because – who can resist books? Please let me know which ones you find most enjoyable as you try out some of our favorites!

  • Reply Megan October 23, 2017 at 3:53 am

    I’ve been wrapping books for the last couple years for my kids to open. I love this idea though! I need to look into doing that instead!

    • Reply Dawn Duran October 23, 2017 at 11:46 am

      It saves sooooo much time, Megan – not to mention paper! Because of the time-saving element, though, this is something that never stresses me out when the season arrives, because it’s all ready to go!

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