Many families have a tradition of giving books to their children at Christmas and on their birthdays. While this can be a wonderful custom, today I want to talk about finding opportunities for book giving outside of those occasions.
With my oldest son, the practice of giving books on holidays turned out to be less rewarding than I had initially hoped. As energetic as he was, he tended to gravitate toward gifts that gave him opportunity to move and play actively, rather than those that involved sitting still and reading. Because I didn’t want to waste valuable time wrapping books that would be quickly set aside, I soon stopped presenting him with books on those occasions altogether.
Of course we still bought books and incorporated them into our family read-aloud time, but we didn’t make a special occasion out of it. I reasoned that since nourishment for the mind is as critical as nourishment for the body, books are not optional; they are a necessity. But I wouldn't wrap up a loaf of bread to put under the Christmas tree and expect him to be overjoyed upon discovering it, so why should I do that with books?
We did have one exception to not gifting books on holidays, however, and that occurred each year during Advent.
In anticipation of St. Nicholas’ annual visit on December 6th, my children put wooden shoes in front of our fireplace on the evening before. In addition to chocolate coins, clementines, and a long hand-written letter, St. Nicholas often left a few other goodies to help them prepare for the holidays. One year he gave them cookie cutters and aprons for baking gingerbread cookies, and another year, beeswax and molds for making candles. But every year, the children also had the pleasure of finding next to the wooden shoes a couple of new Christmas picture books to brighten the season!
Were I able to go back in time, however, I would want to find more occasions throughout the calendar year to give gifts at times when my children would appreciate them, and in doing so, establish a rhythm that they could anticipate eagerly. (File under “things I would do differently if I had to do it over again”).
Several posts by Celeste Cruz at Joyous Lessons offer excellent ideas for this sort of practice. In one post, Celeste describes tucking a book as a gift in each of her children's Easter baskets, selecting from a store of books she has stockpiled for just such occasions. (I only wish I had heard that suggestion thirty years ago!) In another post, Celeste shares about the celebrations their family holds at the end of each homeschooling term, where part of the presentation is a stack of book that relates to their studies from that term. These books aren’t presented to individual children, but rather given to all to share!
While both Easter and the end of the term present occasions where we might give small presents to children, those gifts aren’t traditionally books. We love that Celeste is using these special times to create her own traditions with her children and to share books with them in such a meaningful way. What better present could she give them?
If presenting books to your children for birthdays and Christmas is already a well-established and joyful ritual, by all means, continue. But we suggest that you consider establishing some new traditions, as well.
One great occasion for giving books to children is when they are about to have more time on their hands than they are accustomed to, say at the start of summer vacation or the beginning of a week by themselves at grandma's house. Either instance would be a great opportunity to offer sequels to some titles they have already enjoyed, or to hide a new book in their suitcase as a surprise.
And, as you head out on a family vacation, be ready with a bag of books related to the places you will be visiting, and audio books for the whole family to enjoy throughout the car ride. Additionally, you can introduce seasonal books to welcome each new season. (Especially rewarding will be those books that provide impetus for new activities out of doors, such as gathering nuts in the fall, or following tracks in winter.) You may even want to put special emphasis in your family on a holiday such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, or Thanksgiving by marking the occasion with the gift of a book that brings home the meaning of the holiday.
In families with lots of children, birthday celebrations happen regularly, and are enjoyed by all. If you have an only child, on the other hand, celebrations are much less frequent. You might make their half birthday the cause for celebration each year, or even give them a new book every month on the day of the month that they were born.
Besides birthdays, there may be other days in the calendar significant to your family, but no other. It might be the day a child was adopted, the anniversary of the passing of a loved one, or the occasion of some other momentous event. The gift of a thoughtfully chosen book could be a meaningful way to observe the day.
As you can see, there are boundless opportunities for book giving – marking a beginning, an end, or a special day in the life of your family – which can serve as way posts on your family's journey through the year.
We’d love to hear what occasions you commemorate in your family by giving books! Please let us know in the comments below.
One of our most cherished books that we read aloud as a family was Anne of Green Gables. In fact, we adored Anne so much that we not only read Anne of Green Gables, but also every other L.M. Montgomery book that we could get our hands on! These stories seem to be evergreen, never failing to uplift our spirits and reanimate our imaginations.
We were recently reminded of a scene that many of you will doubtless remember warmly, and so we thought it would be great fun to share it with our readers this December. Hopefully it brings fond and festive memories back to your families, too! May you all know the same joy that Anne felt upon receiving Matthew’s glorious gift this Christmas season.
Christmas morning broke on a beautiful white world. It had been a very mild December and people had looked forward to a green Christmas; but just enough snow fell softly in the night to transfigure Avonlea. Anne peeped out from her frosted gable window with delighted eyes. The firs in the Haunted Wood were all feathery and wonderful; the birches and wild cherry trees were outlined in pearl; the plowed fields were stretches of snowy dimples; and there was a crisp tang in the air that was glorious. Anne ran downstairs singing until her voice reechoed through Green Gables.
“Merry Christmas, Marilla! Merry Christmas, Matthew! Isn’t it a lovely Christmas? I’m so glad it’s white. Any other kind of Christmas doesn’t seem real, does it? I don’t like green Christmases. They’re not green—they’re just nasty faded browns and grays. What makes people call them green? Why—why—Matthew, is that for me? Oh, Matthew!”
Matthew had sheepishly unfolded the dress from its paper swathings and held it out with a deprecatory glance at Marilla, who feigned to be contemptuously filling the teapot, but nevertheless watched the scene out of the corner of her eye with a rather interested air.
Anne took the dress and looked at it in reverent silence. Oh, how pretty it was—a lovely soft brown gloria with all the gloss of silk; a skirt with dainty frills and shirrings; a waist elaborately pintucked in the most fashionable way, with a little ruffle of filmy lace at the neck. But the sleeves—they were the crowning glory! Long elbow cuffs, and above them two beautiful puffs divided by rows of shirring and bows of brown-silk ribbon.
“That’s a Christmas present for you, Anne,” said Matthew shyly. “Why—why—Anne, don’t you like it? Well now—well now.”
For Anne’s eyes had suddenly filled with tears.
“Like it! Oh, Matthew!” Anne laid the dress over a chair and clasped her hands. “Matthew, it’s perfectly exquisite. Oh, I can never thank you enough. Look at those sleeves! Oh, it seems to me this must be a happy dream.”
“Well, well, let us have breakfast,” interrupted Marilla. “I must say, Anne, I don’t think you needed the dress; but since Matthew has got it for you, see that you take good care of it. There’s a hair ribbon Mrs. Lynde left for you. It’s brown, to match the dress. Come now, sit in.”
This selection is excerpted from the chapter "Matthew Insists on Puffed Sleeves" from Anne of Green Gables, which follows Matthew from the time of first determining to get Anne a dress, through the difficulties encountered in procuring it, and lastly the joyous giving of it. We recommend Anne of Green Gables for family reading with children ages 11 and above. Don't dismiss it as simply a book for girls. My brother Daniel enjoyed it as much as I did!
Many children's novels feature festive Christmas scenes. See the list that follows. Can you think of any others? Please share them by adding a comment below.