Posted on

The Best Christmas Books You Need in Your Home

We love reading together all year, but a few books are so touching and special, they've become part of our family Christmas traditions every year.

Do you love reading with your children? It is one of my favorite times to share with my daughter. I I especially love sitting around the tree with Christmas music softly playing as we read together as a family.

One low maintenance tradition we celebrate each Christmas is the 24 books of Christmas.

Wait – I though you said LOW MAINTENANCE?!?!

I know 24 books doesn’t SOUND low maintenance, but this really is pretty easy. I buy one fairly large gift bag and a package of tissue paper. While some people prefer to wrap a book for each day, I found that I just wasn’t the kind of person who will keep up with that.

While my daughter is busy, I take all her Christmas/Winter themed books from her room a few days before December 1. I am always amazed how she opens each book as if it were new and truly enjoys the magic of rediscovering her favorites even if she is a bit too old for some. I add a couple of new books each year, so she has a couple of real surprises.

After she goes to bed, each day I wrap one book in tissue paper, put it into the bag, and put the bag under the tree.

(Heaven not Harvard is a participant in affiliate programs including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.)

She is getting too old for some of the books from the first year we did this, but can’t quite bear to part with them.

(to keep this affordable, the first year I did a dollar store toy or Christmas coloring book every other day and only purchased 12 Christmas/Snowy day books)

There are a couple of our Christmas books that are just for fun and light-hearted tales of reindeer and sweet little children (or mice!) and we enjoy the beautiful illustrations and seasonal stories.

But there are a few stories that have become as much a part of our Christmas traditions as decorating the tree and setting up the nativity.

The first book that has become treasured in our home is The Carpenter’s Gift. I give this to my daughter the day we watch the lighting of the tree in Rockefeller Center (which I DVR so I can pick a convenient night). The Carpenter’s Gift is a fictionalized story based on the first Rockefeller Center tree and focuses on the kind of sacrificial giving Christmas is really about.

I generally get teary-eyed at the ending.

I won’t ruin it, but the best gifts are the ones we give away.

Another favorite, is the Nutcracker. This version is perfect for younger readers. It is beautifully illustrated and keeps the story very simple. Reading it always builds excitement for our annual Nutcracker date.

This year, we weren’t able to afford tickets to the big area production, but one of our family friends was in her dance company’s production. I purchased tickets and put them in the bottom of the bag under this book. We read the book together first. Then she found the tickets, she was so exited! And thanks to reading this book, she was better able to follow the story of the ballet.

Price: $16.14
Was: $17.99

This year, my husband has shared more of our reading times than he usually does. His time in the army is winding down and his responsibilities have decreased allowing him more time at home.

He was able to share one of my favorite stories with us for the first time. It was emotional for us all. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree is set 100 years ago, during the Great War. It’s about a soldier who is called to serve before Christmas and isn’t sure he’ll make it home in time to provide the church with the tree he promised.

The little girl in the story is a sweet angel in the church pageant and has simple wishes for Christmas, a doll and her daddy. Her mother moves mountains to give her daughter the things she can, but can’t bring daddy home faster.

As a wife and mother who has missed her soldier too many times at Christmas, I struggle to get through the last few pages, but the story is beautiful and meaningful.

One of my favorite books as an adoptive parent is Holly & Ivy about an orphan girl and a Christmas doll who just want to find a family.

It’s hard to read without getting emotional as Ivy proudly declares she is going to see her grandmother (who does not exist) over the Christmas holiday from the orphanage. She randomly searches for a family, but when she finds Holly all the details seem to fall right into place.

The other points of view are Holly, a beautiful new Christmas doll who dreams of being loved by a little girl for Christmas, and a childless couple aching for a daughter.

All three of these characters is searching for the others. My heart aches along with them as I read this sweet and tender story to my daughter. We both hug each other a bit tighter knowing the twists and turns that God used to bring us together too.

Lastly, If He Had Not Come and God Gave Us Christmas are such a good books that remind us of the true meaning of Christmas.

If He Had Not Come paints the picture of what our world might be like if Jesus had not chosen to come. It helps us realize how much of the goodness in our world is reflections of Christ in us.

And God Gave Us Christmas is part of one of my favorite series. Narrated by a polar bear telling her daughter about how God gave us Christmas, the story reminds that we have fun traditions like presents, but that the gift of Jesus is the real reason we celebrate Christmas.

We added one special book this year that I just know will become of our favorites. Each day is a character quality that will help us all be more Christ-like. It’s called a Character-Filled Christmas Book and we’re really enjoying it. It is all about the kind of heart and service we should strive for all year, but especially during the Christmas season.

Lastly, we read the Bible Christmas story, because it’s the greatest story ever told and God’s best gift for the world.

Posted on

Valentine’s Day Tradition

Free Valentine's Day John 3:16 Printable with love tank filling traditions to celebrate Valentine's Day with your littles.

Our Valentine’s Day tradition started a few years ago. She was just old enough to start understanding that there was a holiday, and it involved presents and chocolate. I mean, what else does a girl need to know? She was all in.

But I wanted to find just the right way to celebrate Valentine’s Day as a family. When I saw John 3:16 written so the word VALENTINE was created, I knew that was the message I wanted for her, because it was the message I know I still need written on my heart.

It helps remind us to celebrate Christ’s coming everyday and focuses on Godly love, not just romantic love.

But I have all these cute ideas and by the time one holiday is put away, the next one is looming. I had always wanted to be the fun pinteresty mom that makes every holiday special, but frankly, those suckers sneak up on me like ninjas.

Free Valentine's Day printable for your children. Fill their love tank with God's love. Click To Tweet

One trick I’ve learned is to keep everything grouped together and labeled. For Valentine’s Day, I keep everything in a clear project folder I can just pull out and put up.

Our Valentine’s Day tradition is that we post a handwritten copy of the John 3:16 Valentine’s Day printable (link at the end of post) on her door. Then everyday we add a heart with a character trait we love about her. This is day 1.

Character hearts for a Valentine's Day tradition that will build self-esteem.

I used colored construction paper and just cut out several different sizes and colors of hearts, but you could buy heart shaped wall decor or doilies from Walmart or Dollar General if you wanted.

We start on the first and go through the 14th, but you can do however many days you want. You could start on the 14th and go through the end of the month as well.

Free Valentine's Day John 3:16 Printable with love tank filling traditions to celebrate Valentine's Day with your littles.

What I really love about this tradition is that my daughter spends the month of February being told she is loved and special because she was fearfully and wonderfully made by her creator and was so deeply loved by Him that he sent his Son to die for her.

Psalm 139:14 ESV  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

My daughter has many wonderful traits, but I made a point to choose traits that I really want to encourage in her: her faith, her kindness, her curiosity, her joy.

We read each trait together everyday as we add the new traits to the door, so she gets to be reminded of each one. Then we continue to read them everyday until the end of February.

This tradition will build on the love we show her daily to create a memory of being valued for who she is. We can fill her love tank with pride and self-esteem based on the qualities and gifts God has given her.

Valentine’s Day Printable

And establish a good foundation for what true love looks like for the Valentine’s Days her future holds.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to get more of this encouraging content!

Posted on

Adventures in Advent

I’m trying to catch lightning in a bottle, carefully crafting my daughter’s impressions of Christmas as being magical, one of family and warmth, of cozy reading and precious traditions passed down to her, bonding her to our family, rooting her in love, creating the foundation of celebrating Christ’s birth in our adventures in advent season.

She is four and a half, young enough that everyday moments still inspire wonder and excitement, old enough that these moments are becoming memories, hopefully that she will pass onto her own children someday.

When I think back to my Christmases as a child, I struggle to remember more than a handful of specific gifts. A favorite sweater, my first Walkman, and a guinea pig all stand out, but very few presents ended up making much of an impression. Yet the holiday magic my family created some of the warmest and fondest memories of my life.

Celebrating every day of the advent season - Adventures in Advent Heaven Not HarvardWe start our Christmas season the weekend after Thanksgiving. Here are a few of our adventures in Advent this year.

1. Trimming the tree

My family used to cut down a real tree, which is a magical memory to have. We traipsed through the snow, Dad with a hacksaw and carpet square. We spent hours standing in the freezing cold arguing over the perfect tree. I remember watching Dad try to tie it to our woody station wagon with a minimum of frustrated grumbling, later turning the bad spot to the wall and anchoring the tree so it doesn’t crush anyone. Mmm, seems like my nostalgia is perhaps better than the actual experience was.

But with concerns about fire plus the joy of not having to string lights means we opted for a pre-lit fake Christmas tree from Home Depot. I think it looks pretty anyhow. I tucked a scent stick in the tree so it even smells piney.

Heaven Not Harvard Christmas Tree - Adventures in Advent Daddy hauls out the box of ornaments. He unwraps and secures a hook to each one while I share the history of each ornament, from the angel playing the flute the year I joined band to the diploma ornament from the year I graduated.

Our daughter sits wide-eyed listening with rapture. She already asks me to tell her the stories for each of her ornaments and feels the connection to our history as a family. Especially as an adoptive parent, I want to give her these roots in our past.

We spent the day listening to Christmas music and trying to be patient with a little girl who was way too excited. After the tree is trimmed decorations start to fill shelves and tables, candles get lit, and the house starts to feel like Christmas.

2. Nativity

One of the final touches is the nativity. Daddy reads the Bible story while we place the pieces in the nativity set as they are mentioned, starting with Mary and ending carefully with baby Jesus. My parents had all the pieces wrapped in newspaper so we had to scramble to unwrap each piece to find the correct character. Ours were in an old stocking and she had to reach in to find the sheep or camel or angel. She had so much fun listening to this story for at least the hundredth time, trying to anticipate which piece would be next.

3. Countdown

We usually do a Snowman calendar countdown, but this year I found a great little thing at a dollar store. Tear Off Activity Advent Calendar - Heaven Not HarvardI love it because it is teaching her to countdown, plus has a daily activity. Yesterday was a coded mystery word puzzle. I showed her how each letter related to each picture in the code, and she wrote out the “Happy Holiday” all by herself. She couldn’t read it, but wrote all the letters so carefully. She was so proud of herself.

This has coloring, mazes, puzzles, drawing and more – for $1. This was a fun way to countdown the holiday season.

4. Advent

We have an advent calendar that we open and read every night, but this year we’ve added reading a portion of the story of Jesus’ coming every night from the Christmas Bible Reading Plan for Children. While some of the scriptures are over her level, we read them together as a family and talk about how each one is part of Jesus coming to redeem us.

Before we read, we summarize the story so far, and then read the next scripture, adding in the next part of the story. We talk about how Elizabeth must have felt preparing for John’s birth or how Mary must have been so surprised when the angel first appeared.

5. Books and Trinkets

This is a new tradition, I saw someone doing the 25 books of Christmas on Facebook and thought that sounded like a lovely idea. After we finish with the Bible reading, she gets to open a tiny trinket like glitter pens or a new book. I started with the idea of doing a book every night Dec. 1-24, but that is a lot of books and was going to be too expensive. We ended up with 12 books and 12 small toys or treats.

We can read our new books building up to Christmas as her bedtime reading. Most of the books are winter or snow related, a few are Christmas themed, some are books I remember from my childhood and a few are books she can enjoy all year round. I will share our list of books with reviews in another post.

6. Movies, music, and munchies.

Filling our home with the sounds and smells of Christmas is important to me. We are taking time to bake, watch old favorites like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and listen to hours of Christmas classics.

Today is the 50th Anniversary of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, so we watched the movie, sang the song, and baked reindeer cookies with her friends (I will share the recipe later). It was magical. The kitchen was full of squeals and giggles, hands full of dough.

I can’t create a Hallmark movie out of our life because it isn’t real or fair to set such expectations, but I want to create a sense of growing closer, being more focused on Jesus and God’s love for us all as we head toward Christmas and the coming new year. And I want her to forever be reminded of love and home and family and Christ when she celebrates the holidays with her family.

*One thing my parents did was carefully weave together the serious focus on the true reason of celebrating Christ’s miraculous birth into our traditions and yet leaving a little room for the fun of Santa.

I’m still working out how to do that for my little one and be true to the woman God is calling me to be. I know the Santa issue is a source of real debate, but for right now, we are trying to walk a careful middle line as Jesus being the main focus, but letting Santa, the Elf on a shelf, and Rudolph be fun characters that help us celebrate.