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The internet offers a wealth of holiday stories that can enhance your family's celebration. With the help of the (now defunct) ClassicalReview email list, some of the best classic stories and poems have been selected and listed here.
An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott
A story that can be read in one sitting; it isn't very long. It starts off with warm and sentimental descriptions of a large, loving family doing all the nostalgic preparations for a Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House type of Thanksgiving. But then the parents rush off to visit an ailing relative and the children are left alone, and try to finish the preparations themselves. At this point, it becomes reminiscent of another Laura Ingalls Wilder book - the one where Almanzo's parents go away and the children try to keep house themselves.
Though we don't normally recommend movies, we're making an exception for Noelle, a Christmas movie written, produced, and acted by an AO family. This critically acclaimed drama tells the story of a hard-hearted priest who comes to close down a dying church and encounters the real people who live in the parish. It deals with guilt and the difficulty of accepting grace, and portrays the power of love and redemption. ($amzn).
If you love A Christmas Carol, you will also love The Chimes. This is Dickens at his best, making us feel vicariously the misery of the poor and oppressed and see their unfair treatment. It might be ranked close in quality to A Christmas Carol, although it's a New Years' story rather than a Christmas story. In fact, it's similar to A Christmas Carol - the spirits of the chimes teach him a similar lesson to the one that the Christmas spirits taught Ebenezer Scrooge, except that the main character is a good man, not a Scrooge, and there's more misery.
The Haunted Man and The Ghost's Bargain by Charles Dickens
Have you ever, when observing or even experiencing great pain, or sorrow, or past hurts, wondered if the world wouldn't be a better place if we weren't subject to feeling emotion? Imagine what it would be to have no bitter memories, no regret, no ill-will because you couldn't remember the offense. Mr. Redwall, wallowing in the tragedy of a beloved sister lost long ago by the actions of a man gone wrong, is offered this escape from his pain. This is rather a long story to get into, but the jolting possibilities and scenarios brought on by this 'gift' make it a story, that, once you get into, you'll want to read on and see what happens next.
Here are more Dickens Christmas stories, but they are probably best appreciated by die-hard Dickens fans:
Some Christmas Stories (6 short stories)
Stories included are A Christmas Tree, What Christmas Is As We Grow Older, The Poor Relation's Story, The Child's Story, The Schoolboy's Story, Nobody's Story.
Holiday Romance is not a Christmas story; it's about 4 children playing house
The Making of a Christmas Story, a chapter from the book The Holiday Round, by A.A. Milne, is a very short story more for grown-ups that can be read in just a few minutes and features the same kind of humor that made Winnie the Pooh popular. The entire book is posted at Project Gutenberg, but since only this chapter is about Christmas, it's been posted separately.
Thanks to Gail for submitting this one:
"We enjoyed the stories in this online book so much, that I went out and found the actual book for holiday reading."
Selections from Good Stories for Great Holidays by Frances Jenkins Olcott
(has stories for more holidays than just Christmas)
Little Piccola, by Frances Olcott after a poem by Celia Thaxter (or here)
The Stranger Child: A Legend by Count Franz Pocci (or here)
The Wooden Shoes of Little Wolff by Francois Coppee (or here)
The Pine Tree by Hans Christian Andersen (or here)
The Christmas Cuckoo by Francis Browne (or here)
The Thunder Oak: A Scandinavian Legend by William S. Walsh (or here)
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry about the sacrificial love between young newlyweds
The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter - A destitute tailor's kindness is rewarded when he needs it most
This Way to Christmas by Ruth Sawyer - Christmas stories that children will love are interwoven into a story of a lonely boy and how his friendships with the outcasts of the community overcome prejudice. Highly recommended.
The Childrens' Book of Christmas Stories edited by Asa Don Dickinson and Ada Skinner - A variety of Christmas stories that will appeal to children in one volume. Includes The Fir-Tree by Hans Christian Andersen, Excerpts from Dickens' A Christmas Carol, fairy tales, and stories of Christmases blessed with kind deeds.
The Noel Candle by Clement C. Moore - A sweet, very short story that tells a legend about the first noel candle, written by the author of the famous poem, Twas The Night before Christmas.
The Gifts of the Christ Child by George MacDonald - May be more appreciated by mothers on a quiet afternoon over a cup (or two) of tea. It's about a neglected little girl whose mother has died, her father is re-married to a lovely yet simple young lady who is a slight disappointment to him. In her loneliness, the little girl wishes God would chastise her because she has heard that God chastises those He loves, and she wishes He loved her. This story is about the lives of the little girl and everyone around her, and how a child's misunderstanding one Christmas changes everything. Like everything else George MacDonald writes, there are little gems in almost every sentence of the story, so it's not one to rush through. This is just one chapter from Christmas Stories of George MacDonald. The entire text is not online, just the one chapter, but if the other stories are as good, then this would be a nice book to own.
Old Christmas by Washington Irving - Features Washington Irving's excellent style of writing. He begins by waxing nostalgic about how the old spirit of Christmas is disappearing in the worldliness of modern progress (and this was in 1820!) and then spends the remainder of the book with what looks like a detailed journal of a Christmas he spent in Yorkshire. It's all descriptions, and might be a nice read for someone wanting to know how people used to spend Christmas in a bygone era. May be long and uninteresting for children.
These Little Ones by Edith Nesbit - This is a book of bittersweet stories, including the poignantly sad story of regret, "The Criminal" (the sixth chapter), and a sweet story with a happy ending that children will like called Thor and the Hammer (the eighth chapter) Neither is a Christmas story. For Christmas, these two chapters are suggested:
The Three Mothers (chapter 1) about loss and the Lord's ability to bring people with needs together, is more for mothers to read.
The Little Chap (chapter 9) is about a child who brings light into the life of a despairing man at Christmastime, and is one children will like.
The Birds' Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggin - The only daughter in a family of 3 older brothers -- named Carol because she was born on Christmas morning -- brings joy to everyone around her. She is an angelic too-good-to-be-true child. When it becomes evident that she isn't strong enough to live long, she makes Christmas memorable by sharing it with the brood of nine rowdy but poor next-door-neighbor children. Their response to such a treat and their attempts to act "proper" in the company of well-to-do Carol make this short story worth reading.
The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry van Dyke (all ages) is a classic that's been made into variations, and even a cartoon version. This is the original. :)
Other books recommended (these aren't online):
The Christmas Mystery is a wonderful Christmas story for older children and up. It's a combination of two stories really. The book has 24 chapters, from the 1st of December to the 24th. Each day starts off with the boy Joachim, who has an advent calendar that he opens up to a picture and a piece of paper telling the second story. The mystery is if the story inside it is true or not.
The Christmas Day Kitten by James Herriot; for younger kids ($amzn)
Maggie Rose: Her Birthday Christmas by Ruth Sawyer (who wrote This Way to Christmas, which is mentioned above).
Terri writes, Every holiday season, we read Maggie Rose. It is out of print, but not difficult to find. It's a charming book! Here's a recap from the book cover:
"Eight-going on nine-year-old Maggie Rose, who was born on the night before Christmas and named after a real live princess, is one of "those Bunkers," a lazy and shiftless family who live in a dilapidated shack on the wrong side of the Point, a resort spot near Bangor, Maine, and are known to one and all as the laziest, laughingest, singingest family for miles around. Tim and Liz Bunker and their brood of seven children are without an ambition in the world and prefer to lean generously on the charity of their neighbors rather than go out and work. Only Maggie Rose ever wishes for something a little better; most especially, she wishes that just for once there was enough money for "those Bunkers" to have a wonderful birthday Christmas celebration all of their own.
In spite of their faults "those Bunkers" have a fine feeling for the important things in life and they all recognize Maggie Rose as something special, someone who might have come out of the top bureau drawer, had they had a bureau drawer. So when tragedy threatens Maggie Rose, "those Bunkers" are finally jolted out of their kitchen chairs, and in an unprecedented move they rally together and determinedly set about making Maggie Rose's dream come true.
Ruth Sawyer's unfailing magic . . . brings smiles and tears to her readers.There's the feel of Maine and Maine people in the telling-the author has a gift for absorbing local idiom, for telling a story out of the hearts of her characters."
The Last Straw by Paula Palangi McDonald; (may be online here), can be purchased at amazon.com ($amzn). Children put straw in a manger for every secret good deed they do as part of their advent season. One child has a particularly hard time doing good deeds for a difficult sister.
Turkey For Christmas by Marguerite De Angeli. Gail writes: "We read this every year and it has become a tradition in our home."
From the inside cover:
"Christmas!" said Bess softly. To her the wonder of Christmas was a kind of blue-and-gold mystery. It was true it wouldn't be Christmas without a turkey...and Papa said that they would have to choose between a turkey and a few small gifts. But could it still be Christmas with no packages to wrap on Christmas Eve, no secrets to share--and on Christmas morning no bulging stockings or exciting bundles?
Of course there was still the feeling of crisp, cold starlight, of bells chiming. Christmas dinner, with turkey and everything that goes with it...and best of all, her sister, Martha, was almost well and would soon be home from the hospital. But Bess felt very strange, all the same. . .
This it the perfect book to read aloud--a book for every child who has ever asked, "What was it like in the olden times when you were young, Mother?"--and also for every adult who cherishes the memory of Christmases long ago. It is an enchanting story about a family who makes Christmas come true in a time of troubles, and of a little girl how learns that the shape and color of Christmas are made up of love given and received.
Marguerite de Angeli, as all her devoted readers know, has her own special way of communicating wonder and magic in her writing and illustrations. She has never done so more beautifully than in this true story of her own childhood--written for her grandchildren and their children--with all the warmth and reality of happy recollection. ($amzn)
Donna-Jean Breckenridge lists these books as some her family enjoys each year:
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, illustrated by P.J.Lynch - A little boy and his widowed mother break through to a widower's heart one Christmas as he carves for them each piece of Nativity set. The language is rich and rhythmic, and the artwork is beautiful. In my mind, it unfolds like an exquisitely filmed Christmas movie! ($amzn)
One Wintry Night by Ruth Bell Graham, illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson - A young boy is caught in a snowstorm in the mountains, and takes shelter in a cabin his own grandfather built years before. The woman living there cares for his hurt ankle, and tells him the Christmas story through the entire tale of God's redemption of man. The narrative is expansive, and focuses on the complete account of why Christ came. The artwork - including one of a mantel that is in the Grahams' own North Carolina home - is lush and imaginative, and much of it (including that of creation, the angel with the flaming sword, the flood, Moses and Pharaoh, Samson, the shepherds on the hillside, the announcing angels, and the crucifixion) lingers with the reader. ($amzn)
And don't forget the Christmas portions of favorite classics.
Christmas with Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, illustrated by Russ Flint - This was put out by Ideals Publishing in 1986, and it takes the portions of "Little Women" that tell when the sisters gave their Christmas breakfast to a poor family, and later opened their own special gifts, including their little Bibles. "Merry Christmas, Marmee! Many of them! Thank you for our books; we read some, and mean to every day," they cried, in chorus. ($amzn)
A Little House Christmas, Holiday Stories from the Little House Books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Garth Williams - This was put out by Harper Collins in 1994, and is a lovely large paperback (with the familiar illustrations having a colored hue to them). But even without it, Christmas chapters from the different books can be read, such as "Christmas" (from "Little House in the Big Woods"), "Mr. Edwards meets Santa Claus" (from "Little House on the Prairie"), and "The Christmas Horses," "A Merry Christmas," "Surprise," "The Fourth Day," and "Christmas Eve" (from "On the Banks of Plum Creek").($amzn)
The Quiet Little Woman by Louisa May Alcott is a collection of three of her Christmas stories, newly discovered and published by Honor Books. Stories are The Quiet Little Woman, Tilly's Christmas and Rosa's Tale. ($amzn)
The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans. (Simon and Shuster) - A modern tale of mystery, of long-ago grief, of the love of parents for children, of choices. A truly beautiful story. ($amzn)
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson (1972). There is no other Christmas story like this. It makes me laugh until I can't breathe anymore; then it makes me cry with new understanding at the miracle of Christmas. In fact, it's not Christmas until I read this, and hear again Gladys' shout, "HEY! Unto you a child is born!" ($amzn)
Jotham's Journey by Arnold Ytreeide a new favorite! ($amzn)
Raising Patriotic Kids: US History Through Holidays
By Donna-Jean A. Breckenridge
As promised, I'm sharing my thoughts and ideas on how to raise patriotic kids - by emphasizing US History and Principles through US holidays.
First, I've listed some general resources (and where you can locate them). Then I've listed each holiday starting in September, (I have not included spiritual holidays like Christmas and Easter here) and what can be taught or emphasized on those days.
Children's Book "America, A Patriotic Primer," by Lynne Cheney, VP's wife
Cassette: "America's Favorite Patriotic Songs for Kids"
Copies of Historical Documents (bought at gift shops of historical sites)
Holiday posters (teacher supply stores)
Flashcards of Presidents (Staples, or teacher supply stores)
Other books: Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" series"; Childhood of Famous Americans series, American Adventure series, American Girl series
Free Online Patriotism Lessons for Children http://patriot.k12.com - I can't say enough about this free site. It's part of William Bennett's k12.com curriculum, but this site includes several free lessons, some quotes with audio, great monuments to see, and a fantastic series of essays from the Fordham Foundation entitled "September 11th: What our children need to know."
TV series: "Liberty's Kids" on PBS. The website has lots of fun things to do and read: It's not listed on www.pbskids.org any longer, but I have one of the programs on DVD - "Give Me Liberty." It's listed at http://www.amazon.com.
"This is America, Charlie Brown" series of 8 videos:
- The Great Inventors
- Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk
- Building of the Transcontinental Railroad
- The Mayflower Voyage
- The NASA Space Shuttle
- The Birth of the Constitution
- The Smithsonian and the Presidency
- Music and Heroes of America
and "What have we learned, Charlie Brown? A Memorial Day Salute" once found at http://www.snoopygift.com/audio/videos.htm - I have not viewed all of these, but the ones I've seen are wonderful. The Memorial Day one is said to be a little more intense, but very effective. Parents of young children should preview first.
Local places, you might not have thought about. Those within about 200-250 miles of my home include: Washington's Headquarters in Morristown, NJ; Grover Cleveland's Birthplace in Caldwell, NJ; Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Edison National Historic Site in West Orange, NJ; Monmouth Battlefield State Park (Molly Pitcher), NJ; Washington Crossing State Park, NJ; U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY; Valley Forge National Park, PA; Historic Speedwell, NJ; Fosterfields, NJ; Historic Philadelphia (Independence Hall, etc.), North Bridge - Minute Man National Historical Park (Concord, Mass.), Antietam National Battlefield (Sharpsburg, Maryland), Washington, D.C.: all the monuments, the Smithsonian. http://www.fieldtrip.com has a listing of sites for CT, NJ, NY, PA, DE, and MD.
Other Videos: Animated Hero Classics
Holidays and Simple Traditions to Link With Them
Labor Day (1st Monday in September)
Celebrate the right to work and the importance of work; set up family chores for the year, do a family work project.
Poem to read/copy: Walt Whitman's "I Hear America Singing"
Quote to read/copy: John F. Kennedy from his 1961 Inaugural Address: "And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
Patriot Day (September 11th) -
Tell your own stories and understanding of 9/11; tell stories of the heroes of 9/11; pray for the President and those fighting against terrorism; visit a 9/11 memorial - the one near my home is here; honor those who died that day.
Song to sing: "God Bless America"
Quote to read/copy: George W. Bush, from his September 20th, 2001 address to Congress: "We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail."
Book to read: "The Little Chapel that Stood" by A. B. Curtiss, (I have not read this book completely - I'll let you know as soon as I get it - but the preview on Amazon looks very good. It is a children's book about 9/11, and about St. Paul's Chapel, a Revolutionary War era church at Ground Zero that withstood the attack, and became a safe haven for workers at the site throughout those early days and that entire first year. It starts "Around the Chapel of Old St. Paul/Blow the dancing leaves of the coming Fall./In the morning breeze they leap and fly/Beneath the towers that scrape the sky...); older students and parents can read Lisa Beamer's "Let's Roll" and Chaplain Ray Giunta's "God @ Ground Zero."
Articles for parents: http://www.911remembrance.com
Also for parents: "September 11th - What Your Children Need to Know" (a collection of essays)
Constitution Day (September 17th; some call this Citizenship Day)
For the last two years, the Pledge of Allegiance has been said simultaneously across the nation at 2 p.m.; also, the Preamble to the Constitution has been read simultaneously at 4 p.m. This year, General Tommy Franks will lead the reading of the Preamble on Friday, September 16th, at 2 p.m. ET, so that all schoolchildren may participate. Children will be encouraged to wear Red, White, and Blue on that day, and there is a video available for downloading on the site below.
Read/copy the Preamble to the Constitution: "We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
Columbus Day (October 12th)
View free patriotic lesson on Columbus Day at http://patriot.k12.com (site is gone)
Song to sing: "Oh Columbus" song from website lesson.
Election Day (1st Tuesday in November)
The right to vote; take your children with you to vote!
Quote to read: Patrick Henry in 1775 "Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains or slavery? Forbid it, God Almighty! I know not what course others may take but as for me, give me liberty or give me death."
Song to sing: "America the Beautiful"
Veterans Day (November 11th - originally Armistice Day, signaling 11th hour of 11th day of 11th month ending of World War I)
Talk to veterans from family, neighborhood, church, and learn their stories. Write a thank you note to a veteran.
Song to sing: "My Country, 'tis of Thee"
Read a section from Tom Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation" (Use discernment, and pre-read as a parent, but this book is America's "family stories" book.)
Thanksgiving Day (fourth Thursday of November)
Teach the true history of the holiday and importance of freedom of religion and freedom to worship.
Read/copy the Mayflower Compact (it's surprisingly short), and learn about its importance as a founding document.
Books to read to young children: "Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving" by Eric Metaxas (Tommy Nelson publishers, found in Christian bookstores); "Sarah Morton's Day, A Day in the life of a Pilgrim Girl," and "Samuel Eaton's Day, A Day in the life of a Pilgrim Boy," both by Kate Waters (Scholastic); Also read sections from William Bradford's "Of Plymouth Plantation."
Martin Luther King Day (third Monday in January; actual date: 15th)
Quote to read: from 1963 speech "When we allow freedom [to] ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!' "
View free patriotic lesson on Martin Luther King at http://patriot.k12.com
MLK Day website
Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (third Sunday in January)
Emphasize value of each life - born and unborn - in America, including that of the handicapped, and of those individuals that other societies have deemed worthless.
Quote to read: Ronald Reagan, 1988 "[I ask] all citizens of this blessed land to . . . give thanks for the gift of life they enjoy and to reaffirm their commitment to the dignity of every human being and the sanctity of every human life." (declaring National Sanctity of Human Life Day)
Donate items to a local Crisis Pregnancy Center; talk about good ways adoption has affected your family or that of someone you know.
A book (now out of print) I read my children regarding abortion: "No More Singing," by Norman Bomer.
Websites to consider: http://www.specialolympics.org and; http://www.joniandfriends.org/
Lincoln's Birthday (February 12th)
Poem to read: "Lincoln" by Nancy Byrd Turner
Books to read: "Mr. Lincoln's Whiskers" by Karen Winnick Honesdale (Boyds Mill Press); "Abe Lincoln's Hat" (Step into Reading, Step 2) by Donald Cook (Random House); "Abraham Lincoln" by Ingri D'Aulaire.
Quote to read/copy: from Gettysburg Address "That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Website for parents/older students: http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org
Washington's Birthday (February 22nd)
Poem to read: "Washington" by Nancy Byrd Turner
Book to read: "George Washington" by Ingri D'Aulaire
Quote to read/copy: Henry Lee about Washington, "First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen."
Website for parents: http://www.mountvernon.org
Presidents Day (third Monday in February)
Display chart of presidents (or flashcards in a timeline)
Write a letter to the president; pray for the president.
Children's website: http://www.presidentialprayerkids.org
Parents' website: http://www.presidentialprayerteam.org
National Day of Prayer (first Thursday in May)
Pray at noon with your town.
Quote to read/copy: First amendment "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
Website with resources for children: http://www.nationaldayofprayer.org
Armed Forces Day (Third Saturday of May)
Songs to sing: Songs of Military Branches
Write letter to a serviceman or woman.
Quote to read/copy: George W. Bush: "Freedom will be defended."
Memorial Day (May 30th, or last Monday in May)
Poem to read/copy: "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae
Book to read (with activity to consider): "America's White Table," by Margot Theis Raven, about the practice of setting a table for those missing in action or held as prisoners of war. Can also be read at Veterans Day.
Decorate a military grave; buy a poppy from a veteran.
Make (or attend) a neighborhood parade.
Flag Day (June 14)
Recite Pledge of Allegiance (also here.)
Song to sing: National Anthem - "Star-Spangled Banner."
Books to read: "The Star-Spangled Banner" by Francis Scott Key, illus. by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire; "The Story of the Star-Spangled Banner" (Cornerstones of Freedom) by Natalie Miller (out of print).
Independence Day (July 4th)
Quote to read/copy: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Books to read: Lynn Curlee's "Liberty" (about the Statue of Liberty); for parents/older students: "Sacred Honor," by William Bennett.
Excellent website for parents: http://gurukul.american.edu/heintze/fourth.htm