One of our family’s most treasured Christmas activities is a Read Aloud Countdown to Christmas, also called a Storybook Christmas, a tradition we started when our boys were just little.
At the beginning of each December, I wrap Christmas-themed storybooks and place them under the tree. Then, each night at bedtime, we unwrap one book and read it together as a family until Christmas arrives and the books are all read!
This post contains affiliate links for products we use and love and think may be helpful to you. Please read our full disclosure here.
Christmas Traditions Create Memories
Perhaps my most beloved Christmas memories from my growing up years are of my dad reading heartwarming holiday stories to our family as we all gathered around a crackling fire in the living room. Usually, this would be on Christmas Eve. But there was always a generous stack of Christmas story collections lying around, and it seems like my brothers, sisters, and I would spend hours every Christmas season curled up with copies of Chrismas in My Heart.
Another Christmas memory is that some years we were allowed to start opening a small gift or two in the evenings for a few days leading up to Christmas Day. In a way, this new tradition that my husband and I now observe with our children is a hybrid of those two traditions from my growing up years.
Here’s how our family keeps this read aloud Countdown to Christmas tradition:
The first year that we did a Read Aloud Countdown to Christmas, we owned only a couple of Christmas-themed books. So that year, most of our books came from our local library. I purchased a couple that year, and I have slowly added a few more to our Christmas book collection since. I still make up the balance with books from the library. I’ve purchased used from eBay, Amazon, new and used, and thrift stores.
If you’d like to start this fun tradition for the first time this Christmas, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Remember that you don’t need to buy a bunch of new books this year! Make use of your local library, and maybe add a few newly purchased ones to your collection as your budget allows (if you have grandparents or other family members who want ideas of what to gift your children, this would be a great idea to mention!).
- Relax! You do not need to wrap 25 books in one sitting. I usually wrap a few at a time, and I try and reuse the wrapping paper as much as possible during the next wrapping session because it’s already cut, and it’s a lot less waste.
- Keep the tradition as a fun guide, not as a strict rule– don’t feel you absolutely have to read a book every night. Sometimes, your evenings will be too full, and everyone just needs to go straight to bed. And that’s just fine. Maybe you can open two the next time!
- If you have multiple children, it’s a good idea to have them take turns opening books to keep it fun for everyone. I know that some families will have different books for different children. Still, I would suggest keeping the books interesting to as broad an age range as possible, as one of the goals for this tradition is to have something to enjoy together as a family.
- As you open the books throughout the Christmas season, display them to be easily accessible throughout the holidays. You’ll find that your children (and probably you, too!) will be reading them over and over!
- After Christmas, pack those gems away. This will keep them fresh and exciting Christmas after Christmas!
- Feel free to switch things up a little – this year, I’ve added a nativity floor puzzle to our stack of books. While technically this doesn’t fit into the “read-aloud” description, I think that my children, who love puzzles, will be so happy to find a surprise in the mix, and we can talk about the Christmas story together as we build the puzzle. You can also add in an audiobook if your family enjoys those!
Here are our top ten favorite Christmas books – so far! We keep finding new ones as our collection grows.
- Tonight You are My Baby, by Jeannine Q. Norris. This one makes me cry every year when I reread it for the first time.
- The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry, illustrated by P.J. Lynch. The illustrations in this version of the classic story are so lovely!
- Christmas in the Trenches, by John McCutcheon, illustrated by Henri Sorenson. This historical story is one of my boys’ very favorites (it involves soldiers, so of course!).
- Christmas Farm, by Mary Lyn Ray. This is a sweet story of an elderly lady and a young boy who deepen their friendship over several years as they run a Christmas tree farm together.
- M is for Manger, by Crystal Bowman and Teri McKinley. This alphabet book tells the biblical Christmas account of the birth of Christ in a meaningful way without being trite.
- The Christmas Miracle of Jonathon Toomey, by Susan Wojciechowski. An embittered carpenter’s heart slowly softens as he helps a young boy carve a nativity set for his widowed mother.
- The Crippled Lamb, by Max Lucado. The Christmas story is told in a heartwarming way through the eyes of a little crippled lamb.
- The Candymakers Gift, by David and Helen Haidle. There are several variations on the legend of how the beloved candy cane came to be. This book is a sweet (pun intended) rendition of this traditional story.
- An Orange for Frankie, by Patricia Polacco. During the Great Depression, young Frankie learns an important lesson about the power of generosity.
- The Berenstain Bears and the Joy of Giving, by Jan and Mike Berenstain. For fans of this famous bear family, this is a sweet story about how Brother and Sister Bear choose between selfishness and generosity.
Are you excited yet!? Starting a Read Aloud Countdown to Christmas is easy, fun, and can be a very frugal way to create Christmas memories together!
If you’ve never done a Read Aloud Countdown to Christmas before, I hope you’ll try it with your family this year. If you already observe some variation of this tradition with your children, please leave a comment below and let the rest of us know what some of your most loved Christmas storybooks are!
P.S. While you are building your Christmas story collection, don’t forget about books that are a collection of Christmas stories. I highly recommend the Christmas in our Hearts books, edited by Joe Wheeler (the ones I mentioned that we read in our home when I was growing up). I also really enjoy this treasury of Louisa May Alcott Christmas stories.
I wish you and your family a most wonderful Christmas season as you celebrate the birth of Christ and spend time together, creating lifelong treasured memories as a family.
Happy Reading and Merry Christmas!