AFTER READING both of these books I paused to wonder what they had in common except they both contained Christmas in the title. One is a work of fiction; the other, a “how to” book. Both authors introduced each chapter with quotes that perhaps revealed more about the reader than the books’ content did about the nature of the real meaning of Christmas. However, neither mentioned the birth of Christ, Advent as a time of preparation, or of marking these events within the church.
The Christmas Blessing by Donna VanLiere is the sequel to the New York Times bestseller, The Christmas Shoes. The latter told the story of seven- to eight-year-old Nathan Andrews who bought bright red shoes for his mom to wear when she met Jesus. You see, she was dying of cancer. The country music group, Newsong, furthered the heart-rending story with a recording under the same title. This sequel told the story of that same boy, now a third year medical student struggling with his calling.
One needn’t read The Christmas Shoes to follow the story in The Christmas Blessing since the author has Nathan reflecting over the memories surrounding his mother’s illness and death. Nathan is about to learn new life lessons through the health crises of Meaghan and Charlie.
[pullquote]This story held few surprises; its outcome fairly predictable. The protagonists were not as well-developed as they could have been so the novel lacked a certain amount of depth. Was the read a warm and fuzzy one? One of my good friends says that’s what makes a good Christmas read. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t put it in that category.
Gifts from the Heart Simple Ways to Make Your Family’s Christmas More Meaningful is written by primary school teacher Virginia Brucker. She has compiled a fairly complete “to do” list to ensure Christmas is a meaningful one for children, parents, relatives, and others in our communities. Brucker advises us to choose what we do to celebrate Christmas depending upon our time, finances, and the age appropriateness of those activities. The message comes across well. It is important to get children involved with the giving and in the process leading up to the giving.
Brucker, when she writes an entire paragraph rather than itemizing things to do, is insightful, given her 25 years of observing children. Her chapters on dealing with divorce and grief during the holidays were compelling. The hand-drawn pictures from children familiar with a chapter’s particular topic were delightful and helped break up the copious lists. Gifts from the Heart asks us to think about what past Christmases have meant to us. Then, invites us to examine the kinds of memories we are giving our children.
Do these books hold anything in common? Both make the answer quite clear: Christmas is about the gift of Love. Perhaps the dying mom in VanLiere’s novel said it best: “It was Love that came down on Christmas.”
Lynne Samways-Hiltz is a former librarian, insurance broker and child care worker.