There are many traditions in the Advent and Christmas season that my husband and I have together and that we love sharing with our two young daughters. Some are from our own childhoods, like driving around and looking at Christmas lights while eating holiday shakes, or waking up on Dec. 6 to celebrate St. Nicholas with small gifts in our stockings.
But what is quickly becoming the holiday tradition that I look forward to the most is something that we started three years ago: our annual Christmas stories around the fire party that we host sometime during the week after Christmas day.
We welcome old friends who travel in from out of town and new friends who we’ve met that year. Our children’s godparents join us, as well as co-workers and fellow parishioners. We invite each person to bring a favorite short story or poem that has a Christmas theme. Then, after assembling plates of snacks and sweets, we all settle down in front of a roaring fire and take turns reading out loud.
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Hosting Christmas stories around the fire is an intentional way for us as a family to enter into a celebration of the entire Christmas season. As Catholics, we don’t only celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25. The Church also invites us to continue the celebration throughout the eight days of the Christmas Octave, which ends on Jan. 1 with the celebration of the solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Planning our party for the week after Christmas, when most holiday parties fall in the weeks leading up to the holiday, reminds us that Christmas is more than one day. And it also helps combat those post-Christmas blues when all of the presents are unwrapped and you’re left wishing the celebration could stretch just a little longer.
The inspiration for our annual holiday tradition comes from Ryan Toppling, author of the book “Christmas Around the Fire” (Tan, $29.99). The book was born out of Toppling’s experience of reading aloud with his family over the holiday season. After years of gathering with his wife and their nine children around the fireplace to hear short stories, essays and poems, he compiled a list of their favorites and put together the collection featuring works from Augustine to Chesterton with a little bit of Tolstoy and Dickens sprinkled in between.
“What unites these selections is that each, in its own way, points us back to the miracle of the Babe in Bethlehem. Just as his birth needed Mary, Joseph, Angels, and also an ox, an ass, and lowly shepherds, so also does the Holy Child’s message need our voices — the voices of poets, priests, parents, philosophers, and storytellers to carry his love into our hearts,” Toppling writes.
Here are some of our favorites from the past years of hosting Christmas stories around the fire. Some are stories that we’ve read from the pages of “Christmas Around the Fire,” while others are ones friends have shared between sips of hot cocoa and a glass of red wine:
Some Christmas classics to revisit
- “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens
- “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry
- “A Christmas Dream, and How it Came to Be” by Louisa May Alcott
- “The Selfish Giant” by Oscar Wilde
- “The Modern Scrooge” by G.K. Chesterton
Poetry to ring in the New Year with
- “The Burning Babe” by Robert Southwell
- “The Three Kings” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
- “Christ’s Nativity” by Henry Vaughn
- “The Oxen” by Thomas Hardy
- “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” by Charles Wesley
Essays and non-fiction to ponder
- “Christmas, Freedom, and Obedience” by George Wiegel
- “A Christmas Sermon” by St. Augustine
- “What Christmas Is as We Grow Older” by Charles Dickens
- “Rejoice, The Lord is Near” by St. Pope John Paul II
- “Keeping Christmas Local” by Joseph Pearce
This Christmas season, pick up a copy of “Christmas Around the Fire” by Toppling or browse your library shelves for a good book of Christmas poetry. You might not have a cozy fireplace to gather around in your home, but much more important than the fireplace are those who gather in your home and the memories you make together.