Catholic Books to Savor this Advent

advent reading fiction non-fiction

Every year, around this time, I start to feel a bit weary. The fatigue I feel toward the end of the calendar year can be likened to how a runner feels at the end of a long race. I want to end well, but I’m just so tired.

It doesn’t help that a “hustle and bustle” feeling in the air makes me think I’m constantly behind on my ever-growing to-do list. The countdown to Christmas can, indeed, feel like a marathon!

But I really don’t desire the days and weeks leading up to the birth of Jesus to be a swirling blur. I also don’t want to fizzle out before Christmas arrives. Rather, I long to savor the journey and wait with joyful hope. I want to carve out time to prepare my heart—not just the gifts, decorations, and cookies. I’d like to celebrate the last month of the year, wrapped in the joy of Christmas.

Praying Advent

One way I’m sure many of us will savor our December days is by praying with this year’s Blessed is She Advent Devotional, Bearing Light. In addition, there are several lovely Advent traditions, such as lighting the Advent wreath and placing ornaments on the Jesse Tree, that keep Jesus at the heart of the holidays.

There are also wonderful Advent- and Christmas-related books written by Catholic authors that help us remember, “all is calm,” even on a blustery winter evening. Curled up by the fire or cozied up to the lights of the Christmas tree, these books can help us remain present to the season of Advent, while we anticipate the joy of Christmas.

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Our Advent Book List

Whether you are looking for a lighthearted romance or a story to read aloud to your children, here are six Catholic books to enjoy, as we slow down, savor the Advent season, and try not to rush Christmas.

Fictional Fun

Every year, I look forward to watching holiday-themed movies on the Hallmark Channel. Sure, they are formulaic and predictable, but they are also sweet, warm, and perfect for unwinding after a busy day of Christmas prep.

Well, Ornamental Graces by Carolyn Astfalk surpasses any romantic Christmas movie I have ever watched. And it isn’t predictable at all!

The novel follows Dan Malone and Emily Kowalski’s relationship, as it begins in the Christmas tree lot that Dan owns. At the moment, Dan is recovering from a very toxic relationship, and he vows to never date again. Emily is sweet, genuine, and kind. But her lack of self-confidence causes her doubt her chances of ever dating, let alone marrying.

As much as Ornamental Graces is fun, romantic, and enjoyable, it is also deep, thoughtful, and inspiring. Themes of faith, forgiveness, and unconditional love abound and teach us how essential these qualities are in relationships. It also gives us a beautiful portrayal of why Christ came to earth at Christmas—because we needed Someone to rescue us from sin and despair in order to fully live in His light and love.

Pondering in Our Hearts

Whenever I receive my new Magnificat in the mail, I immediately turn to the back in search of reflections by Caryll Houselander. Often featured in this monthly periodical that provides the daily Mass readings, her writing is deep, personal, and poignant.

That is why I had to include her book, The Reed of God, on this list. First published more than 50 years ago, The Reed of God is a spiritual classic that depicts Mary, the Mother of God, as an empty reed or vessel waiting to be filled by God. Houslander’s vision of Mary’s humanity helps us realize that Mary is with us, eager to show us how to say “yes” to God.

The Reed of God is a beautiful and reflective book that you can slip into your bag and bring with you to Eucharistic Adoration. Yes, you definitely want to savor this one!

Biblical Encounter

While Jesus’ early years are often considered “hidden,” six moments depicted in Sacred Scripture encourage us to reflect, imagine, and ponder His childhood: the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Presentation of Jesus in the temple, the flight into Egypt, and finding Jesus in the temple.

What would it be like to walk beside Mary from the Annunciation to the time when she finds Jesus in the temple? What was life like for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph? How would knowing Jesus as a child impact your faith?

Gaze Upon Jesus: Experiencing Christ’s Childhood through the Eyes of Women offers a prayerful and creative journey through Advent and Christmas. Written collaboratively by 11 authors, this book invites readers to encounter Jesus and Mary during His infancy and childhood. Gaze Upon Jesus blends Scripture reflections, a discussion on six key virtues, and visio divina (a way to pray with sacred art). Woven throughout the book is a fictional narrative that invites readers to enter the story of Jesus’ childhood in an imaginative way.

Family Devotion

If you wonder what to do or say when gathering around the Advent wreath with your family, look no further than Welcome Baby Jesus by Sarah Reinhard.

This simple booklet is designed to guide you and your family through Advent, by experiencing the joyful anticipation that leads to Christmas.

Each day includes a Scripture quote from Sunday’s Gospel reading, a brief reflection, and an action to complete. This little book is practical, prayerful, and so helpful in cultivating family devotion. With each passing Sunday, your Advent wreath will grow brighter, and your family will more fully appreciate the true meaning of the season.

Bonus: Read Aloud Fun for the Whole Family

Grade School

The Strangers at the Manger by Lisa Hendey is part of her imaginative five-book series, Chime Travelers, in which twins Patrick and Katie encounter various saints through “chime” traveling.

In The Strangers at the Manger, a new family joins Patrick and Katie’s parish. There is something different about the Perez family, but Patrick and Katie are not sure how to respond to them. Suddenly, a church bell chimes, and the twins find themselves traveling to Bethlehem with Mary and Joseph. As they spend time with the Holy Family, Patrick and Katie learn firsthand how to welcome the stranger and share from the heart.

Middle School

Destination Bethlehem by Sharon Altman and Christine Winkelman is about Isaac and Jediah’s adventures, as they travel through Ancient Palestine, during the census. Yes, the same census for which Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem! As the story unfolds, the boys find themselves at the heart of the Nativity story and gradually realize the birth of the Messiah is at hand.

This book consists of 24 chapters (December 1-24). Each chapter ends with a cliffhanger and builds anticipation for reading the following one, which proves to make it a fun read aloud for the entire family.

What are you reading this Advent? What are some of your favorite seasonal books?

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Sarah Damm is a Catholic wife and mother of six children, living in Minnesota. She spends her days running errands, helping with homework, and keeping up with laundry and the family schedule. Sarah loves her faith, coffee, and good books. You can find out more about her and her writing here.

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  • Reply
    December 4, 2018 at 8:15 am

    My Advent book the year is “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World”. It is so easy to be Martha in the hustle and bustle of the season. This book’s message (so far) is that we need to take time to be with God, no matter how busy we are. It is by Joanna Weaver.

  • Reply
    Carolyn Astfalk
    December 7, 2018 at 3:05 pm

    Great suggestions! Thank you for including Ornamental Graces! By coincidence, it will be free on Kindle 12/12-12/15, so that’s when to grab a copy. I’m not sure that I’ll be doing free days with this one again.

    I’ve also enjoyed Lisa Hendey’s Strangers at the Manger and Destination Bethlehem with my children and second your recommendations.

    I think Gaze Upon Jesus: Experiencing Christ’s Childhood Through the Eyes of Women, edited by Kelly Wahlquist makes for great Advent preparation. And on my list – maybe for next year – is a favorite of my publisher, Ellen Gable. It’s Donkey Bells by Catherine Doherty.

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