On Pinterest, every idea is a new idea worth sharing. I can skip over the home remedies that aren’t as new as tried and true, but when I saw this idea being repinned with comments like “Great idea for when I have little ones”, I decided to go public. When my daughter was in second grade, I got the idea to wrap up all of the Christmas children’s books in the house and put them in a big wicker laundry basket on the hearth to open and read one with her each night at bedtime from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
She LOVED it. It became a tradition that continued through middle school. When she was little, I saw it as a good way to hurry bedtime. Many nights she begged to unwrap a book before she was bathed and dressed in her pjs, and the answer was always that she had to be ready for bed before we could read. Of course, my ulterior motive was to encourage reading. Always to encourage reading! Even though both of my kids still seldom read for pleasure, it isn’t because they didn’t grow up surrounded by books. The book-a-night Christmas tradition could begin at a very young age. I remember one of the first Christmas books that my kids begged for night after night was Carl’s Christmas. They adored all of the Carl books by Alexandra Day, and I liked the creative story telling they encouraged.
Each year, I would buy a few new books to swell the pile and wrap them along with the old. I swear my daughter could snoop out the new books by feel. And certain traditional books were obviously shaped. Chris Van Allsburg’s Polar Express was a long rectangle and easily selected. Certain books, including The Polar Express, were favorites and, therefore, saved for later in the season.
Another favorite was Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus – this one is clearly marked “The Classic Version” by Francis P. Church. Rereading these favorites strengthened our Christmas spirit. Once the Christmas tree – always real in this house – was up and lit, the bedtime reading would move from the bedroom to the family room in front of the tree.
As she got older, I suggested each year that perhaps it was time to just put the books in a basket unwrapped, but she pleaded with me – “not this year – not yet“. So I tried to find less juvenile reading selections. I always relished a trip to the book store (Yes, Virginia! We had book stores) and I found humor in Santa Cows and How Murray’s Saved Christmas. Santa Cows was one that I would also take in to school to read to my classes, working it in as a fine example of a parody – both of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and Field of Dreams!
Part of the magic of this yearly tradition is giving a child a chance to open a present of literature. The unwrapping is physical, but the savoring of each story is intrinsically valuable. One of the books I included is the only childhood Christmas book that I remember reading over and over again – with the exception of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. It is a little book of poems, stories and songs published by Ideals.
Even tonight, when I open the shiny cover, I discover poems I can still repeat by heart. It looks like the book has a 1958 copyright, and the inked inscription suggests it was a gift from the preacher to my parents, but that book is as dear to me as any Christmas memory.
I recently drove to my daughter’s college to take her out to dinner with a few of her new friends, and the subject of Christmas traditions came up. She described – with glee – the book-a-night Christmas tradition, and tried her best to make her friends jealous. She will return from her first semester away at college this weekend, and the deeply nostalgic, Chrismas-loving part of me wants to hurry up and wrap the books. They are all in a box on a closet shelf these days, stored but not buried away like some vestiges of my children’s childhoods.
This Christmas, I sit in a family room lit by the lights on another real tree, in a house strangely devoid of the sounds and energy of kids. I don’t know if Pinterest is the right platform for spreading the word – but if it is, then spread it. Read with your kids! Start a tradition that will keep them talking for the rest of their lives. This idea is inexpensive, but I guarantee you and your children will be rich in memories for years to come.