With less than a month until Christmas, our family has started getting some of our favorite traditions ready. Decorations are coming out, we're choosing recipes for holiday goodies, and we're getting our countdown Advent Calendars ready.
One of the most anticipated Christmas advent traditions in our house is our nightly selection of story books. When our teeth are brushed and our favorite Pjs are on (those being Simcoe PJs, of course!), 24 of our favorite picture books are waiting to be read. For the past 4 years, we've collected a selection of seasonal stories that touch our hearts, and we read one together every night from December 1st until Christmas Eve. Each night, one child chooses a book... but which story it is is always a surprise! Every book has been wrapped in it's very own fabric bag (and no peeking allowed!).
I'd like to share with you both a selection of the books that our family shares together... and also how I made the fabric bags for all of our books.
I'm going to start with the books (I'm a definite bookworm), but if you're more interested in the sewing, just scroll down a bit.
Christmas Stories from our Collection...
I love books. I love the feel of a book in my hands. I love words and illustrations. I love how a story can draw you in and make you feel things. Two hours every week, I work at our local library, stocking shelves and freshening up the book displays. Every November and December for the past several years, I've made a point of checking out as many Christmas stories I can get my hands on, searching for ones to add to our collection. In the list below, I'd like to share with you the 23 books that are our current favorites. I'm still on the hunt for that perfect 24th book... maybe you have a suggestion of one of YOUR favorites?
Our family holiday traditions include the celebration of both the birth of Jesus and the spirit of Santa Claus. I thought a simple legend so you could see at a glance whether these stories include the nativity, the man in the red suit, both., or neither) would be helpful. Since it's been a year since reading these last, I can't promise that I didn't miss some smaller references, but I did my very best and I'll definitely make corrections to the legend if I find any!
I should also mention that our children are not preschoolers anymore, so many of these books are aimed at a little higher age group. Also, our preferences lean toward cute or heartwarming stories, rather than funny or silly.
These stories mention the birth of Christ.
These stories mention Santa Claus.
These stories don't mention either of the above, but talk about other ways of sharing the spirit of Christmas.
If you'd like, you can also check out all (or most... I may have missed a few) of these books in my Christmas Advent Books Board on Pinterest!
A Special Place for Santa - by Jeanne Pieper - Santa Claus is so much more than one thing, and this story touch on where and how Santa fits for those who believe that both he, and Jesus, belong in Christmas.
Apple Tree Christmas - by Trinka Hakes Noble - When a storm takes down their favorite tree, two sisters wonder how it can ever feel like Christmas again.
Bear's First Christmas - by Robert Kinerk - This one is my own personal favorite. Written in beautiful rhyme, it's the story of a bear that follows a beautiful sound, helping other animals on the way, until he finds the source and carries the warmth of what he found back with him.
Bear Stays Up for Christmas - by Karma Wilson - This is a super cute rhyming story about what happens when Bear's friends try to keep him up for Christmas.
Christmas Day in the Morning - by Pearl S. Buck - This is my husband's favorite one. A farmer's son comes up with the most perfect gift to give his father on Christmas morning.
Christmas Farm - by Mary Lyn Ray - A story of a Christmas tree farm... showing how the very best things take time to grow.
Christmas Trolls - by Jan Brett - the illustrations in this book are just beautiful, and tell a sweet story of a girl that shows some unexpected visitors what Christmas is really about.
God Gave us Christmas - by Lisa Tawn Bergen - mama bear takes her cub on a journey to see how God and Christmas go together.
Grumpy Badger's Christmas - by Paul Bright - Badger is not happy about Christmas and wants everyone to just leave him alone so he can sleep. Until something happens that changes his mind.
Jesus' Christmas Party - by Nicholas Allan - A cute and funny story about a super noisy night for a tired and busy innkeeper.
Just Right for Christmas - by Birdie Black - the story of some beautiful red Christmas cloth, and how it is shared to become gifts for everyone from a princess to a mouse.
Lighthouse Christmas - by Toni Buzzeo - Inspired by the Flying Santa Service. Back in 1921 a float plane pilot began the annual tradition of dropping Christmas packages to lighthouse keeper families on the East Coat of N. America. This is the story of one family that special Christmas.
Love Santa - by Martha Brockenbrough - this story if for those children who are old enough to know the truth about Santa... and for keeping that magic alive for always.
Merry Christmas Mr. Mouse - by Caralyn & Mark Buehner - super cute story of a mouse family that finds a new home, just in time to learn about and celebrate their own first Christmas. I love the rhyming of this story. My kids love the hidden pictures.
Mortimer's Christmas Manger - by Karma Wilson - this one is a top favorite for our whole family. A little mouse finds the perfect house... but someone already seems to be living there. Since they are just statues though, they can just move out, that is until he hears the story of why those statues are in the little house.
Shooting at the Stars - by John Hendrix - this is my youngest son's favorite Christmas book. Though fictionalized, it tells of the true story of the unofficial Christmas truce of 1914, when pockets of soldiers along the Belgium-France border set aside their weapons and celebrated Christmas together.
Song of the Stars - by Sally Lloyd-Jones - written in a beautifully poetic style with gorgeous illustrations, this story is about the birth of Christ and how it touches all who live on the earth.
The Christmas Cobwebs - by Odds Bodkin - A family that loses everything after a fire discovers a special gift from a very unexpected source on Christmas morning.
The Legend of the Candy Cane - by Lori Walburg - A girl discovered how a simple candy can tell a very special story.
The Night Before Christmas - by Clement C. Moore - a classic, of course, though we're happy to read it any time in December and not necessarily on Christmas Eve.
The Pine Tree Parable - by Liz Curtis Higgs - One special tree isn't for sale... until just the right family comes along. (Note, this story doesn't mention the birth of Jesus, but it does contain other bible verses.)
The Tiny Star - by Arthur Ginolfi - a little star that never shines bright enough, until one special night.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus - by Francis P. Church - the famous 1897 editorial in the New York Sun, answering the question 8-year old Virginia asked, "Is there a Santa Claus?"
I couldn't possibly tell you exactly how many books I've read in my search for our family's Christmas Advent Books... I'm sure it's well over a hundred! There have been some we've borrowed or bought and then passed on to others, so my Pinterest board includes several others that we've enjoyed, and I'll continue adding to it. I have several more books already reserved at the library for me... so it may be that we'll find yet another story to add to our official Collection this year, or in the years to come.
The best thing about books is that you can read them, and share them. I'd love to hear about and explore some of your favorite Christmas or holiday books, including those from other faiths and cultures! One of our family's very favorite non-story Christmas books is called Walk this World at Christmastime, which is really neat lift-the-flap book detailing traditions from this time of year in cultures around the globe.
My hope in sharing our list with you this year, is that you may find some new favorites for your family.
Okay, so let's get to the Sewing!
Wrapping up the advent books so no one knows which story it will be until we open it up is definitely part of the fun with this tradition! Making zippered fabric bags for each book may take more time than wrapping them in paper... but only the first year! For every year after that, it's quick and simple... and there's no paper waste.
I’m going to show you how I made the zippered bags for our Christmas Advent books. Now, I have to say that this is NOT how a “proper” zippered bag is made. These bags are have no linings or facings. This is how you make a zippered bag when you are going for oh-man-it’s-almost-December-and-I-have-24-bags-to-make, and also fabric-is-so-expensive-and-24-books-takes-a-lot-of-yardage-so-let's-keep-this-simple.
~ You will need woven cotton fabric
~ 24 plastic-toothed 12"(30cm) zippers
I made all of our fabric bags with Christmas cotton that was gifted to us from a good friend. None of our books were bigger than 11.5” wide, so the 12" zippers were perfect and any books that were narrower, I simply cut the zippers smaller (I’ll show you how to do this. It’s easy!)
Let's Prepare the Fabric & Zipper!
Depending on whether you are comfortable “eye-balling” the size of fabric you need, or if you’d rather measure and be precise, the first thing you need to do is figure out how big to cut the fabric.
Basically, you want it to be the size of the book, double the height, plus 2”(5cm) on the width of the book, and 3”(8cm) added to the height of the book.
So, if you have a book that is 12”x9", cut a piece of fabric that is 27”(12”+12”+3”) x 11” (9”+2”).
Or, in metric, a book that is 30cm x 23cm, cut a piece of fabric that is 68cm (30+30+8) x 28cm (23+5).
Use this formula to cut one rectangular piece of fabric for every book, customizing for the size of each book.
Once you have the fabric cut out, finish the two edges that you will be attaching the zipper to by serging or trimming with pinking shears.
Next, you will need to size the zipper to fit it. The zipper stops need to be 1/2" in from the edge on both sides. This leaves enough room for the seam allowance, without risk of hitting the zipper stops with your needle.
(Hint: I’ll admit, I actually skipped this step once I got through the first several bags. Switching feet was slowing me down! I figured, when you stitch the end of the zipper into the fabric, that will stop the zipper too!)
Time to Sew!
Place the zipper face down on the fabric, lining up the zipper tape along the top edge (right sides together). Pin so that you can see just a little bit (1/8” or so) of the finished edge of the fabric next to the edge of the tape. Being able to see that edge as you sew will help ensure that things stay lined up neatly.
Using a standard zipper foot, stitch this half of the zipper to the fabric. When you approach the zipper pull, stop with the needle down, lift the presser foot, slide the zipper pull past the foot, then continue stitching.
Once the first half is sewn on, press the fabric carefully along the sewn edge, being sure to keep your iron away from the plastic of the zipper teeth. Then, topstitch 1/8”(3mm) from the edge. You will, again, stop and move the zipper pull past the foot when necessary.
(Hint: topstitching IS optional… but it does make the bags hold their final shape just a little bit better than if you don’t topstitch. Totally up to you though… since you do have to make twenty-four of these!)
Next, line up and pin the other half of the zipper along the other end of the fabric, again with just a little bit of that finished edge peeking out. Stitch along this side, as before.
Also press and topstitch on this side. It’s a little trickier this time as the fabric is now in a loop, but it’s not difficult to keep the fabric out of the way.
Now you will be sewing together the sides of the bag. There are some really super important things you need to do before stitching the sides. We are NOT placing the zipper right along the top edge of the bag… we want it to be slightly over the edge. Why? Because it will lay down nicer this way, and the corners are going to be tidier than if you try to sew the zipper ends together right at the very top. Trust me, it will fit the books just was well… and it’s simply easier.
First, with right sides together, roll the fabric so that there is a FOLD of fabric lined up with the edge of the zipper tape. It’s okay if the folded edge even sticks out a little past the edge of the zipper tape. You want the whole zipper rolled over to the SIDE of the bag.
Pin down both sides of the bag, holding the edges together in this position. Make sure that your zipper is partially open. When you sew the sides together, it needs to be open so that you can turn the bag right side out.
Line up the open ends of the zipper, matching up the metal end stops. BASTE together, so both ends stay in place.
Now stitch both sides closed with 3/8"(1cm) seam allowance, and finish the seams by serging or trimming with pinking shears. Be careful when sewing over the zipper teeth. This will result in a zippered bag that will fit the book you made it for, with a some extra room to spare.
Turn right sides out, and you’ve finished a bag! One down… twenty-three to go! Don't let that intimidate you though... you'll get super quick sewing these as you go along, and remember, you'll get to use them over and over in all the years to come!