By far, the most popular post on my site (in ten and a half years’ worth of writing!) is my list of Jesus-Centered books to use as a countdown to Christmas during Advent. We started this activity in 2012, when Libbie was a new 4-year-old and David turned 2 during Advent.
It has worked, faithfully, for our family every year. The kids got excited about unwrapping a book. They cuddled with us, sat, and for the most part, listened to the story. Even when Joshua was a baby (he was born in March 2013), we all enjoyed the tradition.
I have accumulated SO MANY Christmas books that now I have to choose 25 to wrap. I was definitely scrounging and thrift-store searching that first year! I probably have an extra 20 books (many of the ones that are more “Santa Christmasy”) that I put in a basket under the tree to be enjoyed any time.
This year, I cheerfully wrapped all the books I needed and set the pile in my bedroom. Before December even began, Joshua (3, nearing 4) took a few to his room and unwrapped them. I tried to convince a three-year-old who argues with me about every little thing that these were not presents for right now. I re-wrapped some books.
We started on a good note. Sure, David (who turned 6 on December 20) didn’t want to sit still and was often doing a wiggle dance and singing during the book reading. Or maybe Libbie (8) was in the bath or still doing homework. Or maybe Joshua went to bed and we did it without him.
We had several late nights where we just tossed the kids in bed when we got home. We had nights where we just forgot to open the book. We’ve gotten out of our real bedtime routine with everyone; we’ve always put the kids all to bed at the same time, but with Joshua not napping he’s often ready to go down for the night at 7. Oh, and we had a six-week-old baby when December began. So there was that, too! Many nights I was nursing, dealing with a fussy infant, or just in flat-out zombie mode.
This tradition – the one I was sure was going to be our thing, that my kids would want to pass on to their kids – felt like a total flop this year.
I truly love to read to my kids. But reading to one child who asks incessant questions, one who is pretty much running laps around the living room, and one who may or may not be sitting on my head, while I also try to keep an eye on baby sister and oh gracious, now they are fighting because someone touched someone else PLEASE JUST GO TO BED RIGHT THIS SECOND.
So um, yeah. Now you know my feelings about that! Having four kids seems to be a new world I was not really expecting.
They read to themselves. I read to them individually as I can. But the whole pile on the couch and all of us read together thing? It just isn’t working right now.
Tonight, I took a deep breath. I told the older three they could color or play quietly while I read. And from my chair, while holding Hannah, I read them the prologue and first chapter of Begin, the first Growly Bear book that I have heard great things about as a read-aloud. And you know what? They did color. Joshua only talked once. Libbie moved closer to me so she could actually hear the story (and made me a note that said “Your the best mommy ever”) (I can forgive her your/you’re error because BEST MOMMY).
Things flop. We learn. Next year, who knows what the case will be? And even if they’re running laps around the room, at least I’m speaking Scripture to them through those Jesus-centered books, right? God’s Word will not return empty. Something will stick in their brains.
And next year, they’ll be 9, 7, 4, and 1. And things will be totally different. And I will wrap those dang books again and see what happens.
So you know all about our favorite Jesus-centered Christmas books. We are faithfully unwrapping one a night. The kids LOVE this tradition, and it’s so neat to have an actual tradition for our little family.
Although I try to stay away from books featuring greedy kids and “you better watch out, you better not cry” mentalities, we do read some books that mention Santa and aren’t really Jesus-focused.
Here are some of our favorites that fall in that category.
Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson – We just love Bear and his friends in the woods. We just came off a season where the kids were fairly obsessed with Bear Snores On, so this is a good transition book.
Snowmen at Christmas by Carolyn Buehner – I love the creative and fun snowmen in these books. Snowman Santa appears, and they also sing about “the birth of a King.”
The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg – This is possibly the most fun book ever. In each envelope, there is something interesting – a card, a note, a puzzle, a game, a flip book. The premise is nursery rhyme characters sending each other stuff for Christmas through the postman. I’ll admit that I got this when my kids were WAY too young, and they’ve destroyed most of the add-ons. We may have to buy a new copy in a year or two.
It’s Christmas, David! by David Shannon – If you have a child named David, he will either love or be traumatized by the mischievous David in Shannon’s books. My other kids think it is HILARIOUS that David gets in so much trouble. (Fictional David, that is.) Poor David just can’t seem to make it through the holidays without finding new rules and wondering if he’ll get a lump of coal.
Little Porcupine’s Christmas by Joseph Slate – There’s no Santa in this one, but it’s not really Jesus-focused either. Little Porcupine desperately wants to be in the Nativity play, but the other animals don’t think he belongs.
Christmas Cookies: Bite-Size Holiday Lessons by Amy Krouse Rosenthal – The author helps define big words and concepts as they relate to cookies around the holidays (like, “Disappointed means, I tried to make it look like a star, but it didn’t turn out at all the way I expected”). A sweet way (ha!) to talk about new vocabulary.
But here’s the thing—and think we’re evil if you want—but we don’t do Santa. I am certainly not anti-Santa by any means, but we’ve chosen to focus on Jesus as the reason for Christmas, not Santa bringing gifts. Mommy and Daddy bring the gifts in our family. (OK, truthfully, Grandma, Grandpa, Nana, and Popi bring most of the gifts.)
So I’ve been trying to come up with 25 books sans Santa that we could use for this activity. And maybe you have, too? Here are my suggestions – please leave yours in the comments!
I have updated this to include only books we own and have read, as well as editing and adding to some of my synopses. If you have any questions about one of these books, please leave a comment or shoot me an email! In disclosure, I have paid for every one of these books with my own money or they were purchased for us as gifts. None were supplied by authors or publishers. All links are affiliate links.
Board Books and Very Easy Books for Toddlers and Babies
Lift-the-Flap Nativity from Reader’s Digest – This one is great for little ones who love flaps and interactive reading. It’s divided into individual stories, so you can just do one or two if your young toddler doesn’t have much of an attention span.
The Very First Christmas (Beginner’s Bible) – This is just the Christmas story excerpted from The Beginner’s Bible; but if you don’t have that Bible, this is a great, simple retelling. It’s divided into tiny chapters and includes everything from the angel visiting Mary to the flight to Egypt. It also has a short chapter about Jesus growing up and what He did on the cross. [Plus, this is only 99 cents at ChristianBook.com.]
Merry Creature Christmas by Dandi Daley Mackall – “Little Star, Big Bear, and the proud, white mare, Join the forest creatures dancing everywhere. All the bluebirds sing, praising Christ the King, On the night of the Creature Christmas.” While I feel like the poetry in this can be slightly complicated to understand, the pictures tell the sweet story of the forest animals having a Christmas party celebrating Jesus.
The Tiny Star by Art Ginolfi – A little board book, where a tiny star plays a big role. Sometimes fictionalizations can be a little confusing for wee ones, but if you don’t mind them, the story of the nativity star here is sweet.
A Christmas Goodnight by Nola Buck – A little boy says good-night to his nativity on Christmas Eve. Simple and precious!
The Animals’ First Christmas adapted by Gaby Goldsack – If you grew up singing “The Friendly Beasts,” you will love this little book. You can sing it, if you want!
One Shining Star by Anne Vittur Kennedy – Another nice counting book with adorable illustrations.
The Little Drummer Boy illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats – Keats drew lovely illustrations to go along with the old song. Another book you can sing!
Preschool to Elementary Level Books
God Gave Us Christmas by Lisa Tawn Bergren – No, I don’t like God Gave Us You. But I do like this one more. Little Cub and her Mama embark on an adventure to see how God gave them Christmas through Christ. It does mention Santa at the beginning, if you are looking for books that completely avoid that.
The Perfect Christmas Gift (Gigi, God’s Little Princess Series) by Sheila Walsh – I believe I’ve expounded on my great love for the Gigi books. They are funny for kids and adults and teach little girls great lessons about being a daughter of the Highest King. Gigi, as usual, knows EXACTLY what she wants … but finds that being a little surprised, like the Christmas shepherds, is OK too.
The Pine Tree Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs – “It’s one of those Christmas books that isn’t technically about baby Jesus and the manger but still manages to get the entire real true story of Christmas in there without being trite or cheesy. I cry every single time I read it!” – OhAmanda
The Story of Christmas by Pamela Dalton – This Nativity storybook uses the words straight from the KJV alongside incredible papercutting illustrations. How gorgeous!
Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd-Jones – “This is a children’s book, but I was totally captivated by this story. Each page shows and tells about different aspects of our world – the wind, the trees, the animals, the stars – as they whisper to each other, ‘It’s time! It’s time!’ The anticipation builds until at last Jesus arrives and creation celebrates the Light of the World and the Prince of Peace.” – The Christian Manifesto
Humphrey’s First Christmas by Carol Heyer – This is maybe my favorite Christmas book, ever. Humphrey is hilarious in feature as well as in his words as he describes the injustice of his life as a camel. And then Humphrey finds himself on a journey … and that maybe things weren’t so bad after all. ADORE IT.
The King’s Christmas List by Eldon Johnson – Mysterious things start happening for Emma and her dog when they find a glowing invitation. As they go to the King’s birthday party, Emma must decide how to help others. I will admit I find the illustrations just a tiny bit creepy, but Libbie loves this one. And I love how it shows practical ways of helping others at the end of the book.
The Wonder of Christmas by Dandi Daley Mackall – We love Miss Mackall in our house. This one prompts your children to think about how each character in the Nativity might have been thinking then.
The Best Thing about Christmas by Christine Harder Tangvald – A little simplistic, but a good choice, especially for younger children. I would say the language falls more under the “toddler” heading, but it is a little wordy for those under age 2.
The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado – Joshua the lamb can’t keep up with the other sheep and feels left out … but finds himself in a special stable.
The Perfect Christmas Pageant by Joyce Meyer (Everyday Zoo series) – Hayley Hippo is in charge of the annual Christmas pageant, and she wants it to the best one ever, a gift to Jesus. But it seems like nothing can go right. Will Christmas be ruined?
Mortimer’s Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson – Mortimer, a mouse, finds a great new bed for himself: a manger in a nativity set. He can’t understand why the statues keep reappearing in the set when he’s done such a good job removing them, until he overhears the Bible story on Christmas Eve.
The Something Wonderful by Karen Hill – These goofy animals know that something wonderful is coming … but what is it? How will they know what to prepare?
For Older Children or the Especially Patient
The Candle in the Window by Grace Johnson – This one is long—you could break it up over several nights, but even then, there is a lot of text per page. But it’s a beautiful story of a German cobbler who remembers the true meaning of Christmas as Christmas Eve passes. Based on a story by Leo Tolstoy. The illustrations by Mark Elliott are lovely and enchanting as well.
Mary’s First Christmas by Walter Wangerin Jr – A different way of telling the story, this is written from the viewpoint of Mary talking to Jesus about his birth when he is a boy. Undertones of what will happen to Jesus find their way into the story; some Amazon reviewers didn’t like that it is a little dark in places. Divided into chapters, so you can spread it out if desired.
The Legend of the Christmas Tree by Rick Osborne – The Johnson family is excited about presents and trimming the tree, but the father feels uncomfortable with their excitement. What does the tree have to do with Christmas, really? At a tree farm, the farmer tells them how the tree became the symbol of Christmas it is today, and how our Christian ancestors used it to point people to Christ.
So there you have it! Twenty-five books you can wrap up and stick under the tree. Each day in December, let your children pick one to open and read together. There will be a lot of repetition, which will help the True Story of Christmas really stick in their little hearts.
What’s your favorite Jesus-Centered Christmas book?