Advent nights are the perfect time to snuggle up with your loved ones and a good book!
Whether you are looking for personal spiritual reading, an audio adventure to enjoy on the go, or a book to share with your whole family, there is a little something for everyone. Here is a versatile list to get you started!
Family Read Alouds:
Holly and Ivy, by Rumer Godden (Illustrated by Barbara Cooney)
A young orphan girl and a Christmas doll yearn for home in this extended picture book. The themes of yearning for true belonging, family, and love coincide well with the hopeful anticipation of the Coming Messiah at the end of Advent. Charming and detailed illustrations draw you into the gentle story that resounds with every heart’s desire to be known by the Father and called by name.
Jesse Tree, by Geraldine McCaughrean
This collection of stories is perfect to read over the span of the several weeks of Advent. A young boy observes the work of a carpenter who is carving a Jesse Tree for an old church. In each chapter, the boy asks about the various symbols of the carpenter and thus the stories of the Jesse Tree unfold in a refreshing way. The familiar stories strike an engaging balance between the traditional comfort of the familiar and the striking new perspective of the contemporary. The storybook approach can be an engaging literary complement to your family’s Advent Jesse Tree devotional.
The Kitchen Madonna, by Rumer Godden
This obscure but charming story of two young children determined to find an icon of The Madonna and Child for their nanny couldn’t be more fitting for an advent family read. When their beloved Marta is homesick for a “good place”, a traditional Ukranian prayer corner, the children set out on an adventure. The story strikes similar themes to the classic “Gift of the Magi” as the children learn that true love demands that they give not only of their time, money, and resources, but also of themselves. As an extension activity, consider setting up your own “good place” in your home as an Advent prayer corner where family members can retreat for some peace and prayer. Include an image of religious art or an icon of Madonna and Child for contemplation.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
This classic allegory is always in style, but is especially impactful during the colder winter months as the characters await the arrival of the Christ-figure, Aslan, who will free them from the bitter cold cycle of “Always winter, and never Christmas!” The Christian themes run deep in this, and all, the Narnia adventures. If your family has enjoyed this story before or if your children are now older consider reading a companion book like “Further up, and Further in: Understanding Narnia” by Joseph Pearce so that you can soak up every bit of beauty that this enchanting allegory has to offer. Even adults can revisit this deeply moving story of redemption that proves to be so much more than a simple children’s story.
High School and Adults:
Shadows on the Rock, by Willa Cather
This rich novel set in the early 1900s in Quebec, Canada highlights the virtues of prudence and temperance as well as trust in the wisdom of the Church. In one particularly memorable scene, great reverence and attention is given to a creche scene that the main character lovingly receives as a gift from her aunt and assembles alongside her dear friend. Willa Cather brilliantly paints the picture of life in the snowy French settlement of Quebec and invites us to engage with the deep faith of her very human characters.
The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry
This age-old story has been retold and adapted hundreds of times, but is well worth returning to the original story itself. This reading challenges us to remember that the three magi brought the original Christmas gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh to the Christ child and all our gift-giving this season must harken back to that. When gift giving has become so commercialized in the modern day, “The Gift of the Magi” invites us to reflect on a deeper economy of gifts that goes to the very root of humanity.
The Reed of God, by Caryll Houselander
The Reed of God is a quintessential Advent spiritual reading that can be read again and again each year. Reflect on Mary as the reed of God, waiting for God to use her to create beautiful music. This Marian reflection covers key moments in Mary’s life including her Fiat, finding Jesus in the Temple, and the Assumption. Advent is a wonderful time to reflect on Mary as the key example of preparing to receive the Christ child. In particular, this work contains a chapter on the themes of Advent where it beautifully describes Advent as a time of “humility, silence, and growth” and expounds upon “the seed” as a symbol of the kingdom of God sown in the human heart.
On the Incarnation, by St Athanasius
Christmas is, after all, the feast of the incarnation! Delve into this rich reading from St Athanasius, a Church Father. How easy it can be to take the reality of the Incarnation for granted and forget that faithful leaders of the Church regularly battled heresy on the topic. Returning to a central truth of our faith from an ancient theological work will bring renewed fruit to your present-day Advent.
Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis
Why not begin the liturgical year by returning to the very fundamentals of Christianity? This approachable defense for our belief in Christ as “lunatic, liar, or Lord ” appeals to all stages of spiritual maturity. This read is perfect to recommend to a friend or relative who is interested in going deeper in their faith but doesn’t know where to start. Even the devout faithful can glean fruit from this work as C.S. Lewis makes the deepest truths of our faith approachable and without watering down any of their awe-inspiring mystery.
Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, by Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)
This installment of the three-part series on “Jesus of Nazareth” is most timely to Advent since it covers the infancy and early boyhood of Christ. Ratzinger builds on the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ earliest life by discussing themes of hopeful anticipation. The historical reality of Christ can help shed light on the impact of the Incarnation throughout time and, in particular, to your life right now. In one particularly poignant section, Ratzinger uses the search of the three Magi as a spiritual lesson to all by comparing it to the universal longing of the human heart to be filled by the life of Christ.
The Merry Beggars has released an audio advent calendar of sorts through daily installations of the Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Each day includes bite-sized pieces of the classic story presented in an engaging audio drama format. Experience the classic holiday story of redemption in a new way this Advent! If your family is always on the go, but you are still looking to share intentional advent reflection time, consider enjoying this audio story during your family’s daily commute or holiday travel.