UPDATED: Our favorite Advent & Christmas books (for all ages)


Each year we try to repack our Christmas decorations in the order we'll need to get them back out the beginning of next Advent.  It looks something like this:  nativities, Advent wreaths, Advent calendar, ALL THE BOOKS, everything else.

Little by little over the years, I've added a book here and there to be brought out and enjoyed for a short season.  Admittedly, much of my collection has been selected by what's available at the thrift store and library sales.  Every once in awhile, though, I find a book so lovely and beloved, it's worth purchasing retail!

I hope you enjoy this little peek into our Advent & Christmas bookshelves.  I'd love to hear what books you enjoy this time of year!

(Also, p.s. there are all kinds of affiliate links in this post because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!)

The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas: An Austin Family Story by Madeleine L'Engle

*This is far and away my all-time favorite Advent story - probably because my mother read it to us when we were little.  Also, because Madeleine L'Engle is dear to me.

*I've often thought it would be fun to make a companion Advent calendar to go along with the story, matching the Austin family's daily Advent activity.

*It just now occurs to me that the Austin family probably lives in Connecticut (thus, the December blizzard).  That makes me love the story even more.

A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

* I discovered this delightful story a few years back, and every year find someone - anyone - who will let me read it out loud to them.

*If you've ever had the quirky privilege of gathering with a large, loud, multigenerational family at a holiday, you should pretty much be able to recognize each character in this story.

Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

*What a wonderful, imaginative man, dear Tolkien.  And, of course, his love for Father Christmas reminds me of his writing friend's depiction in Narnia.

*For more than 40 years now, my own father hand writes a Santa letter (including the same sort of disguised shaky writing as Tolkien's).  For more than 20 years, my husband has done the same.  Somehow, someway I want to hunt down those letters and make our own family book.

*Tolkien's illustrations are priceless.

All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings by Gayle Boss

  • I ordered this book from the wonderful Hearts & Minds booksellers after reading about it in Byron Borger's Advent Booknotes. Take some time to peruse his suggested reads. I'm learning that I totally trust his recommendations!
  • The illustrations and concept of this book is just plain gorgeous. "In twenty-five portraits depicting how wild animals of the northern hemisphere ingeniously adapt when darkness and cold descend, we see and hear as if for the first time the ancient wisdom of Advent:  The dark is not an end but the way a new beginning comes."
  • Beautiful for all ages!

Home For Christmas: Stories For Young and Old by various authors including Henry Van Dyke, Pearl S. Buck, Elizabeth Goudge, Madeleine L'Engle and more

*I'm a huge fan of Plough's anthologies.  

*So many favorite authors in one place. So many good stories.

The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean 

*We've never done a Jesse Tree as part of our family Advent, but I think we would have if I'd known about it when the kids were little.  This is the way I've made up for that omission.

*The illustrations!

A King James Christmas: Biblical Selections with Illustrations from Around the World edited by Catherine Schuon & Michael Fitzgerald

*I picked this up one year at Book People, Austin's perfectly wonderful book store.  The illustrations are gorgeous.

*Excerpts from the Gospels are woven together to form a seamless and easy-to-follow story of Jesus’ birth and infancy, including the Annunciation, the Visitation, the adoration of the Magi, the presentation of Jesus in the temple, and the flight into Egypt. Fully illustrated with reproductions of paintings, sculptures, illuminated manuscripts, and stained glass windows from around the world.

The Spirit of Christmas: Stories, Poems & Essays by G.K. Chesterton

*This book is new for us this year, and it is almost impossible to find.  We were fortunate to find it from an online used book seller.  I'm only including it in the list for you to keep your eyes open at used book stores and library sales throughout the year.

*Chesterton famously adores Christmas. Each year for over thirty years, G.K. Chesterton would write at least five or six articles on Christmas, along with one or two poems and some other odd piece, that would be spread among the journals for which he was a regular contributor and Yuletide issues of other journals for which he was not.  This is a collection of some his best and brightest from all he wrote on the subject.

Shepherds Abiding (A Mitford Story) by Jan Karon

*I haven't read this yet, but my mother gave me the book during a recent visit and promised I would love it.  I don't doubt her one bit!

What the Land Already Knows: Winter's Sacred Days (Stories from the Farm in Lucy) by Phyllis Tickle

  • I just discovered this charming little trilogy of books for the liturgical year from the religion section of our library book sale. I knew Phyllis Tickle's work in the Divine Hours prayer manuals, but had no idea she was a long-time columnist and wrote such lovely prose.
  • I also had no idea that Mrs. Tickle was mother to seven children, 5 of whom she and her husband Sam moved to a Tennessee farm when they wanted to recover their own childhood rural roots. Each brief, engaging story in the book is taken from the family's escapades making life work on the farm.
  • My favorite story in this volume? The pregnant cow stuck on the ice. It's epic.

Jan Brett's Christmas Treasury by Jan Brett

*It's all about the warm, sweet, earthy illustrations.  I never get tired of Jan Brett.

The Bird's Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggin 

*This Victorian-era story certainly falls into the oeuvre of Christmas tearjerkers.  I don't care. I love the story.  Probably again, because my mother read it to us as kids.  

*I recently learned that Kate Douglas Wiggin originally published the book to help fund the Silver Street Free Kindergarten, which she founded in 1878. That makes me like it all the more.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

*You'll laugh and you'll cry.  

*A perfect read-aloud, if you can find anyone to listen.  And they'll be glad they did.

*We love this story so much, we performed it as a pageant in our church years ago.  So much fun.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (picture book edition) (Chronicles of Narnia) by C.S. Lewis

*The story that includes the world in mourning that "It's always winter, but never Christmas." And then Father Christmas comes!  Well, there's the Gospel, friends.

A Christmas Carol: The Original Manuscript Edition by Charles Dickens

*One of the best depictions in literature of Gospel repentance, set in the perfectly appropriate season of Advent and Christmas.  We watch every version, look at ever illustration.  We never want to be too sophisticated to tire of this tale.

Sounding the Seasons: Seventy sonnets for Christian year by Malcolm Guite

  • While this collection of sonnets from the Anglican priest/poet/troubadour covers the entire year, his Advent (the O Antiphons) and Christmastide are stunning.

Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation by Luci Shaw

  • It's no secret that I've been a long-time fan of Luci Shaw's poetry. She does Advent especially well.  

The Glorious Impossible [Illustrated with Frescoes from the Scrovegni Chapel by Giotto] by Madeleine L'Engle

*Madeleine L'Engle's simple poignancy illuminated by Giotto's glorious frescoes from the Scrovegni chapel in Padua (full color throughout, with gold washed edges). Perfection.

What are some of your favorite Advent and Christmas stories?  Tell me about them below!

UPDATED: Our 10 favorite Advent devotional books (for all ages)

Advent begins in a few days! I wanted to share a quick list of devotional books we've enjoyed over the past few years. You'll notice that we definitely lean toward art/literature/liturgy in our devotional material. Also, we've used each of these books (some every year) except for the Jesus Storybook Bible because we totally missed that beautiful train when our kids were little. (Definitely adding to my wish list for visits from, God wiling, future grandchildren.) I include it here, because pretty much everyone I know with little ones loves this book, and this year there's a free reading guide for Advent.

I added a book or two, along with a quick bullet list of what I love about each book below.  

(Also, p.s. there are all kinds of affiliate links in this post because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!)

God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe

  • my all-time favorite Advent devotional, now and forever, amen
  • 1 or 2 gorgeous, full-color art plates (both classic and contemporary) for each day of Advent and Christmastide
  • devotional introductions and reflections on the weekly Scipture readings and prayers include authors like Eugene Peterson, Scott Cairns, Luci Shaw, Emilie Griffin, Richard John Neuhaus and Kathleen Norris
  • a beautiful addition to your Advent & Christmas decorations (We put this book on an easel next to our nativity along with some Bibles for people to pick up and read when they have quiet moments.)

Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas 

  • A collection of 40 essays includes some of the most thoughtful Christian writers and theologians in the last century: C. S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, Philip Yancey, Madeleine L'Engle, Henri Nouwen, Annie Dillard, Kathleen Norris, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day and more
  • You can benefit by reading one essay for each of the 40 days of Advent and Christmas or pick a couple to deeply  meditate over and over.  Each essay is brief enough to read in less than 15 minutes but weighty enough to think about for days or weeks.

Advent and Christmas Wisdom from G. K. Chesterton

  • very simple and brief (yet substantive!) entry for each day of Advent and Christmas (brief excerpt, one Scripture verse, prayer and recommended activity per day)
  • G. K. Chesterton has been called a Christmas Elf with his great love (and prolific writing) of the season.  Each tiny excerpt if chock full of wit and wisdom
  • each entry includes an idea for simple, meditative application (Our family morphed the books ideas into our own back when we first used the book in 2011.  You can see our daily "make or do" list here: Advent Activities to coordinate with the Chesterton reader )

A Season of Little Sacraments: Christmas Commotion, Advent Grace by Susan H. Swetnam

  • This is the best guide I've ever reading that integrates the Advent devotional themes of waiting, quiet, and confession with the sorts of activities that we need to do in order to celebrate Christmas well. Think: choosing gifts, planning a Christmas party,  last-minute shopping, and trimming the tree becoming "little sacraments".
  • Or, as the book cover describes: "For readers who want to experience a truly sacred Advent without fleeing completely from contemporary society."
  • Swetnam's writing style is conversational while still inspirational. Throughout the book she describes her particular journey as a young widow, and how she's learned to bring that suffering into her Advent practices.
  • Her first Advent practice each year? MAKING A PLAYLIST! I didn't need to read further to know I'd love this author. 

The Vigil: Keeping Watch in the Season of Christ's Coming by Wendy M. Wright

  • This is my first year with The Vigil, but I've very much enjoyed Wendy Wright's correlating devotional The Rising: Living the Mysteries of Lent, Easter and Pentecost
  • I'm always grateful for devotionals that cover the whole arc of a liturgical cycle.  We gain so much when we walk with Christ through the biblical narratives of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany (same with Lent, Easter and Pentecost)
  • I appreciate Wright's devotional voice.  In the narrative she interjects from her own life she manages to speak with both warmth and soundness without tipping over into sentimentality or coldness.  I appreciate the balance, and find it lacking from many female devotional writers.
  • I appreciate Wright's applications of classic music and literature into the weekly Advent reflections.

Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God by Bobby Gross

  • one of the best devotionals we've seen that covers the entire year
  • the authors simple, but meaningful introductions for each liturgical season are especially helpful for those who are new to following the Church calendar 

Holy Bible: Mosaic NLT (Meditations) 

  • the New Living Translation and a devotional that follows the full liturgical calendar,
  • the devotional includes writings from saints on every continent and within every century, gorgeous, theologically-rich artwork from historic and contemporary artists and a space for your own written reflections

Devotions for Advent (Holy Bible: Mosaic)

  • The readings are the same from the complete Mosaic Bible, but the small booklet is great for carrying in a purse or sharing with a friend or family member.  
  • The booklet is only $1.99 and includes the same full color artwork as the Mosaic Bible.  Wonderful resource for a family, small group, Sunday School class, or an entire church community.
  • This could even make a beautiful Christmas card or gift  (if you send them out early enough as it stops with Christmas Day.)
  • On the downside: the print is really small, so it could be hard to use for a certain population (ahem)

Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany compiled by Sarah Arthur

  • A prayer, Psalm, Scripture readings, poetry and fiction selections for each week of Advent, Christmastide and Epiphany, with additional selections for the holy days  of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Epiphany.
  • Poetry and fictions selections include both classic and contemporary writers: Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charles Dickens, O. Henry, Susanna Childress, Scott Cairns, T. S. Eliot, William Shakespeare, G. K. Chesterton, Tania Runyan, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Gregory Wolfe and more!
  • This is an excellent resource for anyone wishing to develop more fully in the practice of spiritual reading.

The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones (here's a daily reading plan for Advent using the Jesus Storybook Bible)

  • Every person I know who owns this book loves it (and many adults admit they love it for themselves as much as for their children).
  • While it is a storybook that covers the whole Bible, some very helpful people have selected readings to cover each day of Advent.  (For example, here: Advent Readings with the Jesus Storybook Bible via Home With the Boys)
  • UPDATE: The publishers and author have created a lovely Advent reading companion for the Storybook Bible, and it's FREE! You can download it here.

Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home (Advent and Christmas) edited by Jessica Snell

  • a simply-gathered collection of ideas for living out the liturgical year with your family, and is especially geared toward families with young children
  • ideas are holistic and tactile (e.g., Scripture readings, recipes, history of certain traditions, activity ideas, etc.)
  • a go-to book if your family is new to celebrating the liturgical seasons

I'd love to hear what devotional books you enjoy during Advent and Christmas?

Tell me in the comments below!

Christ the King Sunday

All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. Ephesians 1:20,21

  Pantocrator  by Nathan Simpson ( source )

Pantocrator by Nathan Simpson (source)

There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!
— Abraham Kuyper

The Collect for Christ the King Sunday:

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

7 celebratory quick takes

As we move back into the liturgical calendar with the season of Advent, this will (probably) be my last 7 Quick Takes post for the year. Thanks for reading along through the archives (and the rest of the internet!) with me each week, friends.

(1) Alex & Rebekah visit!

We just had a lovely visit with Alex & Bekah. We hadn't seen them since April, and they hadn't been to our new place yet so we squeezed in a 3 day visit over the weekend. They seem to be doing well, and it's always so good to just be able to hug them. Natalie and I have been in a bit of mourning since they left Sunday afternoon, but Christmas will be here soon. Between now and Christmas, though, both Alex and Natalie will celebrate birthdays.

(2) Farewell to Audrey

We said good-bye to a dear friend last week. In our short time in Connecticut Audrey Gilbertie endeared herself to us in so many ways (as has her whole family). I continue to be amazed at the way those who are close to death are able to persevere in relationship - in both giving and receiving acts of love - up until their last moment in this life. Audrey was like that, and Brian enjoyed each pastoral visit with her. On Tuesday, her family eulogized her so beautifully, and I was reminded that it's the small and tangible acts our family will recall when we are gone: the hugs, laughter, shared meals, and stories we tell that make up the most substantial part of our legacy. 

Farewell, Audrey. We will meet you again soon.

 Brian's last visit with Audrey.

Brian's last visit with Audrey.

(3) Thanksgiving Day in Binghamton (and the rest of our kids in Austin)

Thanksgiving posts in the archives:

2016 - Thanksgiving Daybook: Hallelujah, the bounty has come

2014 - Thanksgiving party-in-a-post

2012 - Thanksgiving party in a post

2011 - the sacrament of the unnecessary &  mostly grateful & 7 quick takes! (preparing for our first Thanksgiving away from our NY family)

2008 - all is safely gathered in

(4) Our 27th Anniversary

Our anniversary gift to each other this year was a photo session with our friend Adiel Dominguez Photography. He helped us feel a bit more comfortable than we generally do in front of a camera, and we ended up having so much fun traipsing in the Connecticut woods. We tried to recreate one of my favorite wedding day photos from 27 years ago. (Brian has a much better haircut this time!)





Here's a few more of the photos from Adiel:

Anniversary posts from the blog archives:

2014 - Paying Attention (22): celebrating monotonous monogamy

2011 - twenty-one

2010 - I'm going to stop blogging for awhile because I need.... (a sappy photo slide show for our 20th)

2009 - i wanna marry you all over again & recession-proof romance

2007 - a delicious taste of the Big Apple; moving; Dot Rama's big lesson (Celebrating our 17th in NYC)

2006 - respite (Our 16th - exhausted - anniversary.)

(5) Christ the King Sunday

Tomorrow marks the final Sunday in the Church calendar. I hope I never stop delighting in the profound meaning of beginning the year with Christ in the womb, and ending the year celebrating His entire rule and reign over every square inch of the universe. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Here are some previous meditations from the archive:

(6) Advent is coming!


Advent begins on Sunday, December 3 is the first day of Advent this year, which makes it a shorter season than other years. (Don't tell anybody I said this, but it also means we get a full week between Thanksgiving and Advent to watch some of our favorite Christmas movies before entering the contemplative weeks of Advent!)

As in the previous few years, I'll be sharing a daily meditation of art, music, Scripture, and spiritual practice. It also means you'll see my name show up more often in your inbox or blog feed (every day through the 12 days of Christmas). I hope that I'll be an encouragement to you as we enter into the waiting of the Christ who has come and will come again. Please feel free to let me know if there's any way I can improve the Advent Daybook series for you.

In the meantime,  I've written quite a lot about Advent in the archives!

2016 - A few simple ways to decorate for Advent

2016 - Our favorite TV episodes during Advent

2016 - Our favorite Advent & Christmas books (for all ages)

2016 - Our favorite Advent music (for all ages)

2013 - You're not too late: five ways to celebrate Advent starting anytime

2012 - Parenting Unrehearsed: Family liturgies for Advent and a confession from an exhausted Dad at Christmas

2010 - Advent gifts from the church, ancient and contemporary & uneasy Advent

2009 - we are expecting! 

2008 - anguish

(7) links re: liturgy, art, and relationships

An End to 'Realistic' Love: Real love requires real imagination by Aarik Danielson - A beautiful, insightful piece by a new writing colleague. "Love is specific. No bumper-sticker theology—even the greatest, truest bumper sticker you can think of—can convey what it means to be for someone else. Only presence can do that. Only tenderness working from the inside out." | via Fathom Magazine

Every Moment Holy: New liturgies for daily life - Added to the top of my Christmas wish list! The good crew at the Rabbit Room have collected 100 of McElvey's prayers for everyday realities and occasions into a book that can be ordered here. | via The Rabbit Room

Episode 11: The Art of Criticism with Alissa Wilkinson - Grateful for the work Allissa is doing in the world of film criticism, and enjoyed this conversation so much! | via Image Journal podcast

Advent Readings from a Modern Martyr (Óscar Romero) - 25 excerpts from Plough's free ebook The Violence of Love. | via Plough

Responding to sexual abuse will take years—and it should -  "The process of taking care of problems that have been avoided for decades will itself take decades." | via America Magazine

Krista Tippett - Top 10 episodes of On Being! - In honor of Ms. Tippett's Birthday. Many of ERB's picks overlap with my own. | via Englewood Review of Books

What Flannery O'Connor's College Journal Reveals - Published for the first time in the current issue of Image, an arts and faith quarterly—[the journal] covers just 40 days from December 1943 through February 1944, and was written during O’Connor’s sophomore year at what was then Georgia State College for Women.| via Atlantic Magazine

May your week ahead include true, good, and beautiful things.

p.s. This post may contain affiliate links because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!

 See other bloggers' 7 Quick Takes posts  here .

See other bloggers' 7 Quick Takes posts here.

A Thanksgiving prayer before feasting

Happy Thanksgiving, blog friends. I'm grateful for the conversations we've held here for the last eleven + years, and for all the ways I've learned from this community. 

Thanksgiving prayer. vintage card.jpg

I recently discovered (via the Victoria Emily Jones' treasure of a blog, Art & Theology) the beautiful prayers written by Douglas McElvey. The good crew at the Rabbit Room have collected 100 of McElvey's prayers for everyday realities and occasions into a book that can be ordered here. They've also made a few prayers available for free download, including this rich liturgy offered before feasting with friends.

Whether you are celebrating this week with friends or family, may you know the truth that all will be well. 

CELEBRANT: To gather joyfully
is indeed a serious affair,
for feasting and all enjoyments
gratefully taken are,
at their heart, acts of war.
PEOPLE: In celebrating this feast
we declare that
evil and death,
suffering and loss,
sorrow and tears,
will not have the final word.

But the joy of fellowship, and the welcome
and comfort of friends new and old,
and the celebration of these blessings of
food and drink and conversation and laughter
are the true evidences of things eternal,
and are the first fruits of that great glad joy
that is to come and that will be unending.

So let our feast this day be joined
to those sure victories secured by Christ,

Let it be to us now a delight, and a glad
foretaste of his eternal kingdom.
Bless us, O Lord, in this feast.

Bless us, O Lord, as we linger over our cups,
and over this table laden with good things,
as we relish the delights of varied texture
and flavor, of aromas and savory spices,
of dishes prepared as acts of love and blessing,
of sweet delights made sweeter by
the communion of saints.

May this shared meal, and our pleasure in it,
bear witness against the artifice and deceptions
of the prince of the darkness that would blind
this world to hope.
May it strike at the root of the lie that
would drain life of meaning, and
the world of joy, and suffering of redemption.

May this our feast fall like a great hammer blow
against that brittle night,
shattering the gloom, reawakening our hearts,
stirring our imaginations, focusing our vision
on the kingdom of heaven that is to come,
on the kingdom that is promised,
on the kingdom that is already,
indeed, among us,

For the resurrection of all good things
has already joyfully begun.


May this feast be an echo of that great
Supper of the Lamb,
great Supper of the Lamb,
a foreshadowing of the great celebration
that awaits the children of God.

Where two or more of us are gathered,
O Lord, there you have promised to be.
And here we are.
And so, here are you.
Take joy, O King, in this our feast.
Take joy, O King!

Take joy!
CELEBRANT: All will be well!

All will be well!
Nothing good and right and true will be lost forever.
All good things will be restored.
Feast and be reminded! Take joy, little flock.
Take joy! Let battle be joined!
Let battle be joined!

Now you who are loved by the Father,
prepare your hearts and give yourself wholly
to this celebration of joy,
to the glad company of saints,
to the comforting fellowship of the Spirit,
and to the abiding presence of Christ
who is seated among us both as our host
and as our honored guest, and still yet
as our conquering king.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
take seat, take feast, take delight!
— "A Liturgy for Feasting with Friends" by Douglas McElvey, 2017