What is Christmas?
December 5, 2018 12:00 PM   Subscribe

Can you recommend a book about Christmas (as in, the story of Jesus being born) for young elementary kids that does NOT lean heavily into the idea that Jesus is going to save us all? We are not religious people at all but we do celebrate Christmas, and I'd like my kids to have a basic understanding of what the story is that underpins the Christmas holiday. Ideally my kids' takeaway -- underscored by our family's other actions and words -- is that there actually is room at the inn and there is hope for the future.
posted by stowaway to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure if it's exactly what you want, but I quite liked Isabelle Holland's The Christmas Cat when I was a kid. It's a sweet little story that's nominally about the manger and the three kings legend but mostly about the importance of kindness.
posted by halation at 12:05 PM on December 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Am pretty sure that "A Charlie Brown Christmas" has been made into more than one book.
posted by Melismata at 12:09 PM on December 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

We are in your position as well, and while I don't have very specific recommendations, I suggest that you go to your local library and look in the Children's Nonfiction section under Dewey Decimal number 232.9 to see if they have anything that will work for you. I've found a few over the years that suit our purposes. We currently have "On That Christmas Night"; the critical Amazon review highlights some issues with it, but those are relatively minor for our purposes, as the kids are little and we're just getting the basics down. YMMV. It's a relatively straightforward telling of the story that didn't make my (non-religious) toes curl.

It's not about the Nativity, but we also checked out Oskar's Eight Blessings and it is a lovely book with a message that aligns with "room at the inn and hope for the future."
posted by telepanda at 12:42 PM on December 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also, I understand that you asked for book suggestions, but since my kids are fascinated with the story of the Nativity, I've started putting the Little People Nativity set that we were inexplicably gifted a few years ago under the Christmas tree so they can act it out, and that helps them think through the characters/story on their own. We also have a Playmobil Nativity set + 3 wise kings set that I dole out in little bits each day as an Advent calendar.

Talking with them about it in this context lets me tell them the story with a relatively historical tone rather than a hyper-religious one. It's been really worthwhile, and they love it.
posted by telepanda at 12:56 PM on December 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Christmas in the Barn by Margaret Wise Brown mentions the phrase "no room at the inn" and tells the story of the birth without referring to Jesus as the son of God.

This is the Stable by Cynthia Cotten has a similar feel, but does not have the phrase about the inn.

I normally recommend Gail Gibbons for kids' informational books, but I had a look at her Christmas book and it repeatedly refers to Jesus as "the christ child" so I'm guessing that's a likely no.

If you're looking for a book about how including people is not a zero sum game. I would recommend a recent release for kids, The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates. It's not a holiday book but the message is one of hospitality and welcoming people no matter what they look like.
posted by donut_princess at 12:58 PM on December 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Possibly Tomie DiPaola's illustrated version of "The Friendly Beasts," an old Christmas carol about the animals in the stable and what they gave to the baby Jesus. It's not as straightforward a nativity narrative as you might want, but the message of warmth and sharing is lovely, and if your kids love animals, the focus on them is sweet.
posted by dlugoczaj at 1:54 PM on December 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Julie Vivas's The Nativity is as close as you are likely to get. It tells the story in Luke's simple language, and the illustrations are charming.
posted by ckridge at 2:00 PM on December 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I loved this Little Golden Book when I was little, "The Christmas Donkey". It's the story of Joseph and Mary told from the point of view of the donkey that carries them to the inn. It contains zero scripture or any sort of interpretation about the meaning of Jesus' birth. In fact, it's so neutral that despite reading it dozens of times, it didn't really click for me until I was a little older (maybe 10-11?) that it was THAT Jesus the story was talking about.
posted by Fuego at 7:47 PM on December 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

The book God gave us Christmas
posted by SyraCarol at 9:55 PM on December 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Margaret Laurence's The Christmas Birthday Story (1982) might fit the bill, if you can find a copy (easier to do in Canada, since she was one of Canada's literary lions). If I remember correctly, it includes a line like, "Mary and Joseph didn't care whether the baby was a girl or a boy. They just wanted their baby to be healthy," for which she got hate mail.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 10:19 PM on December 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Another donkey story! The Donkey's Dream. I come from a secular family that nevertheless made a big deal out of Christmas. The book tells the story from a single, limited perspective that conveys mystery, beauty, and hope in an dreamy, impressionistic way.
posted by gang of puffins at 10:32 PM on December 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much for the suggestions everyone! But I found one book at my local bookseller that struck the exact tone and message I was looking for. It's called Refuge. Here's an article in The Guardian that shows some of the images from the book.
posted by stowaway at 10:54 PM on December 10, 2018

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