Where Are You Christmas? Searching For The Meaning of Christmas in Picture Books

What My Kids Read: Where Are You Christmas?

For the past 6 weeks, I’ve been looking through Christmas picture books, looking for the ones that we enjoy the most. As I looked through our books and thought about what we liked about them, I was reminded of a book review I read years ago in The New York Times.

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This excerpt of the article has stuck with me for years now:

“Replacing the slippery Holy Ghost with anthropomorphized spirits, the infant Christ with a crippled child whose salvation waits on man’s–not God’s–generosity, Dickens laid claim to a religious festival, handing it over to the gathering forces of secular humanism. If a single night’s crash course in man’s power to redress his mistakes and redeem his future without appealing to an invisible and silent deity could rehabilitate even so apparently lost a cause as Ebenezer Scrooge, imagine what it might do for the rest of us!” [Kathryn Harrison, “Father Christmas,” The New York Times Review of Books, December 7, 2008, p. 14]

Now, I actually love reading most of Dickens’ works. Some of his characters are like dear friends that have encouraged or inspired me at different times of my life, but as I read this review (which is probably not the original source of this idea), I noticed for the first time the absence of the true story of Christmas in most books and movies. I mean, you could argue that A Christmas Carol (and the multitude of adaptations) is actually about peace on earth and goodwill, and I would not disagree, but there is more to the Christmas story than kindness and charity (important as those values are). Christmas is about the magical, amazing epic that God came to earth as a baby, lived His life in humble obscurity, died a horrible death to give us eternal life, rose from the dead, AND that He is coming again! Advent celebrates that God is now with us and that He is coming back for us. The best Christmas picture books stick to the “Christmas story,” which is usually Luke 2 (literal or paraphrased). It’s good, but stops short of what this holiday truly is about: the magical mystery of that baby, who was God, gave His life, rose from the dead, and is actually coming back to us.

What My Kids Read: Where Are You Christmas?

As heartwarming as the typical Christmas stories of hard-hearted men who learn to love again through the kindness of others can be, they still fall very short of the miraculous magic of the reality of Advent. I have two more Christmas picture books to tell you about, both are family favorites, but they both fall into this category of a great message, but not really THE message. So, this coming year, I am on the hunt for Christmas books and movies that bring the focus on Jesus returning. I’ll let you know if I find any.

What about you? What do you think about this? Agree or disagree? Have any Christmas picture books that really sum up the meaning of Christmas? I would love to check out any suggestions you have!




  1. I have to say that I really love The Grinch and The Polar Express – I know they aren’t the message you are talking about but both are easily open to allegorical interpretations that transcend the Santa Claus theme they represent, just as the real St. Nicholas transcends that as well with his own life!

    But I’ll offer two titles that speak more to the core of your question. I grew up loving The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell, first published in 1946 by Children’s Press and then dressed up with considerably finer illustrations in a reprint of the original text in 1991. This is a story that very young children can easily relate to, yet still capable of bringing a tear to the eye of an adult at the story’s climax.

    For me, the children’s picture book that does the best job of presenting the real Christmas Story is The Glorious Impossible by Madeleine L’Engle. (Simon and Schuster, 1990.) The text tells the story of the life of Christ from the Annunciation to Pentecost. Her text is absolutely true to the Biblical sources and yet the language is comfortably easy for children to understand, and it’s especially helpful that she embellishes the story by telling how the various characters must have felt at various points in the story. The illustrations are all taken from the frescoes of the Scovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy, painted by Giotto. It’s an absolutely lovely Christmas book and a perfect telling of the story for children.

    • Steve, for some reason, I’m just now seeing this comment. Thanks for the recommendations! I am very interested in The Glorious Impossible, and I had forgotten about The Littlest Angel. Tucking those recommendations away in preparation for the next Advent season. Thank you!

So what do you think?

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