HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTMAS CHILD is my first children’s book with halos. Can you spot them glowing on the cover over the heads of the Christmas family? They shine on each and every spread. I didn’t envision halos when I wrote the story, but I like them. They remind me of my childhood years spent in France. It was there that I was first introduced to these glowing nimbuses on family field trips to Notre Dame, Chartres and more. Then, and now, I find them to be artistically beautiful ways to represent both those who are divine (Jesus and God) and those who served God in special ways.
So when I was asked what my take on them was and informed that there is currently great controversy over their inclusion in picture books, I was surprised. In my opinion, they are a joyous addition to HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTMAS CHILD, providing lovely opportunity for conversations about what they are and how they can help to remind us of God’s loving mission to redeem the world.
Here are a couple of sweet pictures from my childhood years in France. In the first, I am standing with my mother and sister on an elegant outing. Can you guess which one I am? The second is a snapshot taken by my dad on a trip to Chartres cathedral circa 1979. My mother is on the left looking up and I am sporting a very bright red hat. My sister is running joyfully in the middle.
Now, inspired by my mom who skillfully used halos to spark conversations about God on those special outings, here are FOUR suggestions for doing just that:
- Set halos in historical context. I was fascinated to learn as a small child that halos in Christian art date back to the time when few could read words but all could “read” pictures and so churches were designed with biblical stories visually on display in the form of statues, paintings, and stained glass windows. And what about those halos? As my mother explained to me, they were visual clues that the figures wearing them were either divine (i.e God or Jesus) or divinely appointed helpers with a special role to play.
- Introduce the idea of SYMBOLISM. Ask your little ones if WE wear halos? Ask them why they think we don’t? Ask if they think Jesus actually wore a halo? What about God? This will be an interesting conversation…. but wherever it takes you, be sure to conclude that NO, Jesus didn’t actually wear a halo, neither does God. Halos are the creation of artists looking for a visual way to show God – or his special helpers. They are symbols, sort of like arrows – alerting us that the wearer is either God or someone important to God’s story.
- Read a book with halos. As you read HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTMAS CHILD, or another book with halos, have your little one point to the halos on each page. (Hint: They are on Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.) Ask your child how the halos look? Do they add a sense of warmth and love to the story? And why do they think each has a halo? Ponder all this together, concluding that Jesus has the halo because He’s God’s Holy Son! And Mary and Joseph have halos because they were blessed to be Jesus’ earthly parents – special helpers indeed.
- After reading, go on a halo field trip. One of my favorite cathedral outing memories as a child was of going on halo hunts. I think my mom did this to keep us entertained so she could listen to the tour guide, but I loved it. This is how they worked. First, we’d pick either a large window or maybe the statuary above the entrance. Next, we’d look for and count the halos. Finally, we’d see if we could figure out who the haloed figures were and how they could remind us of God’s power and love. You can do that in your community as well either by visiting a local church that has haloed figures or perhaps a museum that has a collection of medieval church art. At Christmas time, you might even be able to spot some halos in people’s front yard nativity scenes!
Whatever your stance on halos, I pray that you and your little ones are filled with a sense of wonder, joy and thankfulness this Christmas as we celebrate the the birth of Jesus, God’s precious Son.
SPECIAL THANKS: A variation of this post appeared over at Big Books, Little Ears last week. I’d like to thank blogger/owner Kristin Wynalda for asking me this thought provoking question.
Also, Sophie, my pooch, is a bit incensed that I haven’t yet shared her interview over at Kathy O’ Neill’s delightful blog. Would you help make her happy and smooth over my oversight by popping over for a read? And maybe leave a comment for her? Here’s the link.