Advent and Christmas stories to share

From left to right: Brigid's Cloak by Bryce Milligan; The Donkey's Dream by Barbara Helen Berger; Truce by Jim Murphy From left to right: Brigid's Cloak by Bryce Milligan; The Donkey's Dream by Barbara Helen Berger; Truce by Jim Murphy

Every year of their childhood on the feast of St. Nicholas, December 6, my friend Rebecca’s children awoke to a stack of rectangular wrapped gifts next to their shoes. St. Nicholas always brought them books. On Christmas we celebrate the Word Made Flesh. Why not savor beautiful words from great stories during this Advent and Christmas season to prepare your heart — and the hearts of those in your family — to receive the Word with joy?

Sharing Christmas stories is a simple way to make the home feel “Christmassy” all the way through the Christmas season’s January wrap-up, even after you’ve taken the tree down.

Whether you’re setting the expectant tone of Advent in your own domestic church or gifting your godchildren, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or neighbors, here is an annotated, opinionated list of treasured tales.

The Donkey’s Dream, by Pacific Northwest artist Barbara Helen Berger, is a lush, luminous telling of the Christmas story that emphasizes Mary’s powerful feminine role. I consider it one of the best picture books of all time. I frequently give this title as a gift, and I’ve been known to pull our own copy off our shelf if I don’t have time to order a new one. To prevent this, my children have inscribed our copy “From the Bartels to the Bartels.”

The Friendly Beasts is a beloved classic tale of the barnyard animals’ gifts to the Christ Child; many illustrators have their own versions. It’s sweet and makes a great baby gift.

The Huron Carol, illustrated by Frances Tyrell, was written by St. Jean de Brébeuf, one of the North American Martyrs. He situated the Christmas story among the Hurons he evangelized. The result is lyrical and evocative.

The Night of Las Posadas, The Lady of Guadalupe, The Legend of the Poinsettia and The Clown of God, all written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, belong on every Catholic family’s shelf.

Brigid’s Cloak: An Ancient Irish Story by Bryce Milligan follows the shepherdess child Brigid as she is transported in prayer to first-century Palestine, just in time to help at Jesus’ birth.

Christmas Tapestry, by Patricia Polacco, set in Detroit, connects a Holocaust survivor with a Protestant pastor when she recognizes his second-hand liturgical tapestry as her wedding canopy from the old country. I dare you to read aloud this book to your 5- to 9-year-olds without choking up.

The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate, by Janice Cohn, D.S.W., is based on the inspiring true story of how Billings, Montana, fought anti-Semitism. My husband and I know one of the side characters from our college days at Gonzaga.

Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters, by Patricia C. McKissack, contrasts the lavish celebrations of a plantation owner’s family with what celebration could be had among their slaves.

Tabitha’s Travels and Jotham’s Journey, by Arnold Ytreeide, were gifts to our family from my friend Barbara of St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Everett. These gripping Palestinian children’s adventures take readers through the Advent season to a Christmas climax with one short chapter per day.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson, follows the hilarious takeover of a proper church pageant by the uncouth Herders kids, who are as rough and socially isolated as the Bethlehem shepherds must have been. This is my teenager’s favorite Christmas story.

Christmas Day in the Morning, by Pearl S. Buck, illustrated by Mark Buehner, presents the heartwarming tale of a farm boy’s sincere gift of self for his stern, hardworking father, whose love he finally sees.

The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry, illustrated by P.J. Lynch, is another Bartel family favorite. Eminently giftable.

Truce, by Jim Murphy, presents the true story of the World War I Christmas truce in the trenches, for 9- to 12-year-olds.

Sip some hot chocolate, light a few candles, and read — or wrap up and gift — inspiring Christmas stories!

Northwest Catholic - December 2018

Sarah Bartel

Sarah Bartel, a member of St. Andrew Parish in Sumner, holds a doctorate in moral theology and ethics from The Catholic University of America, where she specialized in marriage, family, sexual ethics and bioethics. Her website is