by Barbara Renner
Christmas Eve, draped in tinsel and lights, tiptoes upon us. Children dream of toys under the tree and candy in their stockings; mom wraps last minute gifts; dad snores in front of the fire. What do you do on Christmas Eve? Go to church? Drive around neighborhoods admiring light displays and luminarias? Host family and friends with cookies and hot chocolate?
One of our family’s favorite Christmas Eve traditions was to sit in front of the Christmas tree and read books with a holiday theme. My young daughter loved for me toread The Sweet Smell of Christmas, by Patricia M. Scarry, a scratch and sniff book. She would bend down and put her tiny nose next to the pages to smell an apple pie, a pine tree, hot chocolate, a gingerbread boy, candy canes, and an orange. It’s amazing how the book retained its smells from year to year – or maybe it was our brain transferring the memories to our sniffers. After 30-some years, today the book resides with my daughter.
Icelanders celebrate a tradition called jolabokaflod, or the Christmas Book Flood. People start shopping for books in November in order to give them as Christmas gifts. On Christmas Eve, they unwrap their gifts and spend the night reading their books as they snuggle under warm blankets and sip warm drinks. According to the International Publishers Association 2015-16 annual report, Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country except the U.K. Icelanders enjoy reading books written by local authors and discussing them, sometimes with strong opinions. Fifty percent of Icelanders read at least eight books per year, while 93 percent read at least one, probably on Christmas Eve.
In Denmark, a pakkekalender, or gift calendar, is a popular way to count down the days to Christmas Eve. There are 24 small gifts for the children in the calendar. Julekalender, or Christmas Calendar, is a television series with 24 episodes that tell the story of someone trying to ruin Christmas, but the main characters end up saving Christmas. Profits from the sales of the calendars and the television programs go to help poor children in Denmark and a developing country.
On Christmas Eve in Greece, children go out in the streets singing kalanda, or carols, playing drums and triangles as they sing. Sometimes they also carry model boats decorated with nuts that are painted gold. If the children sing well, they are given money as well as things to eat like nuts, sweets, and dried figs.
In Germany, Christmas trees were first used during the late Middle Ages and are very important to this day. If there are young children in the house, Christmas trees are brought into the house on Christmas Eve and secretly decorated by the mother of the family. In some parts of Germany, the family reads the Bible and sings Christmas songs, such as “O Tannenbaum.”
According to Bookbub, a few good books to read Christmas Eve include The Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore and Charles Santore; The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson; The Christmas Wish, by Lori Evert; How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss; The Snowman, by Raymond Briggs; Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, by Rick Bunsen; The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg; The Nutcracker, by Susan Jeffers; and The Elf on the Shelf, by Carol V. Aebersold, Chanda A. Bell, and Coe Steinwart.
What books are you going to read Christmas Eve?
Barbara Renner and her husband have lived in Phoenix for more than 40 years. As “Sun Birds,” they fly away to Minnesota to escape the summer heat – and to fish. While in Minnesota, Barbara became fascinated with its state bird, the Common Loon, and was prompted to write four picture books about Lonnie the Loon, because everyone should know about loons. However, books about loons don’t sell very well in the desert, so she is writing a new series of picture books about Quincy the Quail. Barbara visits elementary schools as a guest author to read her books and share interesting facts about loons and quails. She’s working on other children’s books and a special book about her yellow lab, Larry: Larry’s Words of Wisdom. Learn more about Barbara at RennerWrites.com, as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and GoodReads.