READING IN ADVENT
Every season has its reading and, if anything, Advent and the Christmas period have more of their fair share. Each day through Advent we will be reading a portion of the Bible relating to the different decorations for our Jesse Tree as well as a chapter of Geraldine McCaughrean’s beautiful book The Jesse Tree. (A word of warning: the paperback version is apparently not nearly such a lovely book as the hardback so it may be worth looking around for a reasonably priced second-hand copy). This year I am also reading Haphazard by Starlight, an anthology and commentary of poems that reflect the themes and spirit of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany by Janet Morley. My elder daughter and I started it last night with Rowan Williams’ troubling poem ‘Advent Calendar’ and found it a very rewarding and challenging read.
Another Advent reading tradition we started last year is the reading of different ‘Christmas chapters’ of favourite books. There is so much to choose from! Below are some of our favourites:
- All or some of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson (aka The Worst Kids in the World). The performance of the Nativity play at the end is very moving as well as funny.
- ‘Milly-Molly-Mandy Goes Carol-singing’ from Further Doings of Milly-Molly-Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley. My elder daughter was a huge fan of M-M-M from the age of two. This lovely chapter tells of a community Christmas: ‘And Little Friend Susan said, “Everybody sang!” And Milly-Molly-Mandy said, “We did it for love – all of us!”‘ The book ends with one of Lankester Brisley’s simple illustrations of a single star above Milly-Molly-Mandy’s little white cottage with the thatched roof and the words, ‘”Peace on Earth – Goodwill to Men”‘.
- ‘St. Nicholas and St. Valentine’ from What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge. It is the first year of Katy’s long illness but she wants to give her family some special gifts. In turn, her brothers and sisters prepare a surprise for her and the family have a very happy Christmas. Caution: contains a spoiler that it’s not Santa Claus who fills the stockings on Christmas Eve…
- ‘Christmas Boxes’ from What Katy Did At School by Susan Coolidge. Katy and Clover are on the other side of the country from their family, studying at boarding school in the East. Severe weather means that the pupils’ Christmas gifts from their families cannot get through in time for Christmas Day but by some miracle the Carr sisters’ boxes arrive, bringing Christmas cheer to them and everyone else in the school.
- ‘Playing Pilgrims’ and ‘A Merry Christmas’ from Little Women by Louisa M. Alcott. The March girls, half-regretfully, decide to have a Christmas of self-sacrifice and thinking of others but discover that their Christmas spirit makes them happier than they could have imagined.
- ‘Pantomime’ from The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown. Written when Brown was only fourteen this book is about some ambitious young people who start their own theatre company. The Christmas chapter tells how they perform a triumphant Cinderalla.
- ‘Christmas’ from Little House in the Big Woods and ‘Mr Edwards meets Santa Claus’ from Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Sick of interminable Christmas lists, requests for certain expensive presents and the continual pressure of advertising to spend and splurge in order to guarantee yourself a happy Christmas? The antidote is in the simple Christmas celebrations of Laura and the Ingalls’ family. Making a few precious gifts, sharing home-cooked food and being together is all they need for a lovely Christmas-time!
- ‘The Naughtiest Story of All’ from My Naughty Little Sister by Dorothy Edwards. Find out what happens when the Naughty Little Sister meets Father Christmas.
- ‘”Merry Christmas, Everybody in the Whole World!”‘ from Nancy and Plum by Betty MacDonald. In this chapter at the end of the book Nancy and Plum get the happy ending they’ve always dreamed of, but don’t forget their old friends.
- ‘Christmas Day’ from Christmas With the Savages by Mary Clive. Evelyn is forced to spend Christmas with the boisterous Savage children but eventually begins to enjoy herself…
- ‘Christmas Shopping’ from Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace. Betsy, Tacy, Tib and their new friend, Winona, go Christmas ‘shopping’ which is actually a kind of advanced window-shopping and ends with them all buying a new ornament for their Christmas trees.
- ‘Linnet’s Story’ from The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston. In this other-worldly book, Tolly comes to know the three children who lived at Green Knowe hundred of years before. Linnet’s story takes place one Christmas Eve long ago…
- The Fairy Doll and Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden. Although, strictly speaking, these are short books rather than chapters their brevity means that they can be read in one or two sittings and they can both be found in The Fairy Doll and Other Tales from the Dolls’ House which is illustrated by Jane Ray.
- ‘Dulce Domum’ from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham. Having been staying for many weeks with his good friend, Ratty, Mole suddenly feels nostalgia for home and he invites Ratty to spend Christmas with him there. At first it seems like cold comfort when they realise that Mole’s beloved little house is dusty and neglected and that the larder is the same. However, with the help of some carol-singing field mice, all is set right.
I am sure I have left out some important Christmas chapters and I am sure you can think of your own favourites. There are lots to choose from and are worth re-reading on these dark, chilly nights.