Christmas is simply magical, isn’t it? There’s this feeling of excitement and anticipation in the air. The soft glow of twinkle lights. The smell of fresh baked cookies and sweet treats. The bright red and white stripes of candy canes. The elaborately designed stockings. The beautifully decorated trees.
Have you ever taken the time just to bask in the beauty and the splendor of this season?
Christmas is more than just a magical season, though. There are many traditions that we have come to simply accept as part of Christmas: things like Christmas cookies, candy canes, stockings, and Christmas trees. But have you ever found yourself wondering where these traditions came from?
Do you ever catch yourself wondering about the story behind the story? The story behind the legend? Where did the tradition come from? How did it all start? How did it come to be this beloved picture and a treasured symbol of the Christmas we know and love today?
A couple of years ago, I stumbled across a book about candy canes. But before you think it was all stickiness and sweet treats, this book dove into the legend behind the creation of candy canes. It started to answer where the tradition started and where the legend came from. Then I found another book that was very similar…and another.
These books are not a series, and yet they’ve become a series to our family. There’s this beautiful, overarching theme that binds them together: The desire to find the story behind the story. To dig in and find out where the legend or the symbol first originated and to use that knowledge to deepen and further expand our understanding of Christmas. And you want to know the most incredible part? The more we learned about the legend, the more it gave even more meaning to these beloved traditions.
Now, before you start thinking these books are super thick, dusty, hard to decipher, dry textbooks, let me tell you the best part of it all: These are children’s books! They’re stories told in an engaging way with delightful, colorful pictures to illustrate the story along the way!
Here are five of our absolute favorite Legends of Christmas storybooks:
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The Legend of the Christmas Tree
Nothing says Christmas quite like a beautifully decorated evergreen tree! Whether the tree is wrapped in ribbon or garland, whether it boasts a theme of stars or gold and glass ornaments, whether it tells a story through its ornaments or whether it simply tells the story of a family growing through the years, the Christmas tree has become one of the most universal symbols of the season.
But have you ever wondered how the tradition of decorating a tree at Christmas came about? And why an evergreen tree? In ‘The Legend of the Christmas Tree’ Rick Osborne explains this tradition through a search for a Christmas tree of all things!
Join the Johnson family as they walk through their traditional tree-finding evening and head out on a quest to find their own perfect Christmas tree. But there’s something different about this year. This year, their Christmas Tree Quest becomes less about finding the tree itself and more about learning why Christmas trees are decorated in the first place.
Journey through time and across continents as you learn the legend of the Christmas tree as told by the Christmas tree farmer over a cup of hot chocolate.
But, as with most stories, the real challenge comes when you start to incorporate the lessons learned from the story into your everyday life. Rick Osborne doesn’t leave you wondering what to do with the legend of the Christmas tree, but shows you how the Johnson family took the lessons from the story and incorporated them into decorating their own tree.
Before you get caught up in the tinsel and the lights of decorating your Christmas tree this year, take a moment and discover the story behind the story. Discover why we use evergreen trees to celebrate Christmas. Appreciate the way the meaning of the decorations and the different elements have developed through the years. And appreciate the beauty in learning where it all started.
The Legend of the Christmas Cookie
Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the delectable smells of homemade cookies and tasty treats! These confectionary delicacies just seem to go hand in hand with holidays, don’t they? But when did Christmas cookies first become connected to celebrating the Christmas season? Oh, to be sure there are tasty treats connected with every holiday in almost every culture in every part of the world. But what about the legend behind the Christmas cut-out cookies?
Believe it or not, there’s a bigger story here than you may have thought! In fact, the story goes all the way back to the Middle Ages! In ‘The Legend of the Christmas Cookie,’ Dandi Daley Mackall tells the story of a young boy’s adventure in learning the bigger meaning behind the tasty treats of Christmas sugar cookies.
Did you know that Christmas cookies can help to share the good news of Christmas? It’s true! Many years ago, during the Middle Ages, many people could not afford to go to school and so many of them could not read. And yet, one family wanted to meet the needs of the people – both their need for food and their need to hear the good news of Christmas. So, they decided to tell others about the true meaning of Christmas by giving them sweet dough cookies in the shape of the characters in the Christmas story.
As they handed out each and every cookie – a baby in a manger, an angel, a shepherd – a different aspect of the story was told. And so the good news of Christ’s birth was explained to them even as their physical need for food was met. Thus, the tradition of sharing the good news of Christmas through simple, tasty, and decorated cut-out cookies was born.
The Legend of the Candy Cane
Candy canes have come to be one of the most highly recognized symbols of the Christmas season. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a time when candy canes weren’t a part of Christmas! But like all traditions, it had to start somewhere.
In ‘The Legend of the Candy Cane,’ Lori Walburg tells the legend behind this sweet treat. It’s hard to believe, but this tradition started over 350 years ago! But is there a greater meaning behind this simple, curved confectionary stick? Absolutely!
Join Lucy as she takes a brave step and offers to help the new shopkeeper who comes to town. No one knows for certain what type of shop this newcomer will open, but each crate that Lucy opens increases her curiosity. When the shopkeeper reveals that he is opening a candy store, Lucy is delighted!
But there’s one candy that makes her pause and wonder: A striped candy stick that isn’t straight, but curved into the shape of a shepherd’s crook. Through this simple peppermint stick, the candy shop owner tells Lucy the Christmas story, highlighting how each of the elements of the candy stick point to a deeper meaning.
And yet this simple stick of candy didn’t stop with the story of Christ’s birth, but goes on to tell the story of His death and His mercy. It’s a story that has been forgotten in the midst of all the Christmas candies and specialty treats that abound at this time of year. And yet the candy cane remains a part of the Christmas celebration. Quietly waiting for the world to sit up and take notice of the deeper meaning it holds.
The Legend of Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas. Santa Claus. Kris Kringle. Pere Noel. Jolly old Saint Nick. There are so many names to the legend of Saint Nicholas, but where did they all begin? Why did the tradition of Saint Nicholas giving gifts on Christmas get started? Is there truth behind the legend or is it just a story that was told over and over again and it took on a life of its own?
In ‘The Legend of St. Nicholas,’ Dandi Daley Mackall explores the story behind this legend and brings it to life through the eyes of young Nick. You see, Nick needs to buy presents for his brother but he doesn’t really want to spend his hard-earned money on his brother, he’d rather use it on himself! Yet, as he’s looking around begrudgingly for a present for his brother, Nick overhears a man dressed as Santa Claus telling another child the story of Saint Nicholas.
Nicholas was a boy who lived many years ago and saw the world around him with his eyes wide open. He paid attention to what others were doing and what they said. He listened to their wishes, hopes, and dreams. And through his open heart, he was able to change the world. He paid attention to what their dearest wish was and he had the money to be able to give them what they wanted, delivered on Christmas Eve.
Yet, Nicholas wasn’t after notoriety. He didn’t need anyone to know his name. He simply wanted to give because he had been given so much – both in money and through his faith in Christ.
Young Nick had his perspective on gift giving changed dramatically when he heard the story of Nicholas. He allowed the legend of Saint Nicholas to open his eyes the way Nicholas’ eyes had been opened. He allowed the story to open his heart to others the way Nicholas’ heart had been opened. And he find a new joy in giving that he never thought would be possible.
The Legend of the Christmas Stocking
There are many different legends that tell us how Christmas stockings came to be part of the Christmas traditions we know and love today. In fact, socks or stockings are not universally used as overnight present holders all over the world! Some cultures use stockings. Some use shoes. Others use pillowcases. Each culture has a little different twist on this tradition. Yet, it’s really interesting to see this theme of presents arriving overnight into some sort of holder over and over in Christmas traditions all over the world.
In ‘The Legend of the Christmas Stocking,’ Rick Osborne tells one of the stories of this legend through the eyes of a young man trying to do right by his family. Peter is doing all he can to help out his family while his father is away at sea. At the same time, he’s saving every penny he can to buy an intricate wooden ship for himself.
And yet, Peter’s world changes when he hears about Christmas Stockings. The legend goes that many years ago, a man named Nicholas found out that his shoemaker’s daughters wanted to be married. The shoemaker was a poor man and wanted the best for his girls, but in that time and culture, a lady could not be married without a dowry. Without telling a soul, Nicholas gave the poor shoemaker money to pay for each of his daughter’s dowries. Upon the delivery of the third and final bag of gold coins, the bag fell into a stocking that was hanging to dry over the mantle.
This story so moved young Peter’s heart that he willingly gave up all the money he was saving for himself to give his mother and his sisters the Christmas presents he knew would be so special to them. And without even knowing it, Peter himself gets a Christmas present he never knew to ask for.
One of the beautiful themes that is highlighted in this particular book is not just the desire to get presents and to have your own stocking filled, but to cultivate a heart of generosity. A desire to give more than you receive – and the struggle that you have to go through to move from an attitude of selfishness and self-entitlement to one of generosity and humility.
Wrapping It Up
As with all legends, it’s hard to separate the cold, hard, facts from the storytelling embellishments that have been added through the years. Yet, knowing the meaning behind these beloved symbols is so important. To not simply carry on traditions because that’s the way that it’s always been done, but seeking to truly understand the meaning behind it all.
These five books have become Christmastime favorites in our home. Year after year we pull them out and read them again and again. Going on a quest year after year to remind ourselves of the meaning behind these beloved symbols of the Christmas holiday season. I hope that you, too, will enjoy these books and perhaps they’ll become favorites and classics in your home as well.
Allow me to be one of the first to wish you a very Merry Christmas!
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Looking for some of the books or materials mentioned on this page? Click on the photo below to purchase your own copy today.
Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.