Advent and Christmas Recommendations, (Books, Music, and E-Courses)

Here are some things you might not know about Christmas and Advent:

  • Advent means ‘coming’. We tend to think of Advent as preparing for Christmas (ie preparing for remembering Jesus’ first coming), but traditionally the focus was on preparing our hearts for Jesus’ second coming.
  • Advent is a penitential season (like Lent). Traditionally, this was a time of fasting and prayer before the feasting of Christmas.
  • Christmas only starts on December 25th, and runs for two weeks afterwards. Some of my more traditional Anglican friends think it very improper to sing Christmas carols in Advent, insisting that the right time to sing them is for two weeks after the 25th December.

Here are some ways you can mark Advent and prepare thoughtfully for Christmas:

Advent E-Course: Coming Home

At the moment, I am slightly in denial that Christmas is coming. This is one of those times when it is quite nice to be housebound, so I am not bombarded by gaudy plastic Santas and cheap tat promising to be the perfect gift. I am feeling a yearning to sit quietly amidst all the rush of advent glitter and jingly songs.
For this reason, I’m going to take an Advent e-course, run by my dear friend Tara Owens, that is an online retreat/journey/pilgrimage from Advent to Epiphany (Dec 1 – Jan 6). I want to approach Christmas this year in a mindset of spiritual reflection rather than a frenzy of commercialism, and her course is the perfect way to do this, with daily readings from Scripture, thought-provoking questions and creative exercises, and weekly conference Skype calls for a chance to have a more directed time of prayer and reflection.

Tara Owens is an amazing spiritual director and a writer who excels both creatively and theologically. I am honoured to call her my friend. She always helps me to look at the Bible with fresh insight, and she has a knack for asking just the right questions to get at the heart issues. She has a gentle spirit, and has her roots firmly in the Scriptures and in the most helpful traditions of the ancient church.

I love the thought of preparing spiritually for Christmas, but I know that I need to do it in community, otherwise it won’t happen.  

I’d love it if you would join me in this! It’ll be fun! If you sign up before Friday 15th November you get a $25 discount. Check out the details here.

  • Touching Wonder: Recapturing the Awe of Christmas – John Blase. I read this last year for Advent, and for me it really did recapture the awe of that first Christmas. It is a retelling of Luke 1-2, by John Blase, poet and blogger, (who has guest-posted here earlier this year). It has 12 sections, each starting with a Bible reading from Eugene Peterson’s The Message, then telling the story creatively from a particular person’s point of view (e.g. Elizabeth, Mary etc), and ending with a handwritten prayer or reflection. The result is something remarkable, and he really helped me to see afresh a story that can become tired upon repetition, making the characters seem very contemporary. He is such a gifted writer that these short meditations have stayed with me, even a year on, and reading it really did feel like the wonder of Christmas was made more tangible.
    See it on and


I love listening to Christmas music in all December. (This is a bit of a Thing with me: in December I only listen to Christmas music.) These are some of my favourites:

Traditional Carols:

  • Merry Christmas – Vienna Boys Choir – If you would like carols, but feel like a European twist, this is an enchating album. The sound is sweet – which is not to say ‘cute’, but ‘delicious’, and there is a mixture of German and English classic carols. One of my favourites.
    See it on or


  • Christmas with the Tallis Scholars – This is two CDs – the second sounds like traditional Latin monk chanting, and can be useful for meditation or relaxation, the first is a lovely collection of haunting traditional and early carols and motets, sung unaccompanied by a small choir. It is best heard accompanied by a roaring fire, to feel the primal power of those haunting chants and wandering harmonies. I love this period of music, and used to sing in a madrigal choir, so this is special to me.
    See it on or
  • In Terra Pax (City of London Choir) – This is a lovely collection of more unusual Christmas music – British composers mainly from the 20th Century (Holst, Vaughan williams, Rutter) etc. This is a big choir with an orchestra, so it has a rich and full sound, and the soloists were all good. If you like your advent music to have a twinge of discordance, even while the lyrics proclaim the comfort of Christmas, this is the one for you.
    See it on or


  • Sweet Bells – Kate Rusby. Kate Rusby is an incredibly talented English folk singer, and this is full of good English cheer and wassailing. Her voice is just captivating, and her arrangements of these traditional folk songs and carols are fabulous. It’s a really cosy album. She has another Christmas album, While Mortals Sleep, which is also excellent, but Sweet Bells is probably the one to get if you just get one.
    See it on or
  • Christmas in DiverseCity – Toby Mac – Apparently this dude used to be in DCTalk. I’m not sure how you’d describe this music – electro pop? (I feel old). This has a great, upbeat, contemporary twist on traditional Christmas Carols, and some great collaborations, including Owl City, whilst still feeling worshipful. See it on or

P.S. I saw my ME specialist last week. He’s referring me to a different doctor to investigate my autonomic dysfunction (think that’s the right word…) and possible heart issues. It’s a good direction to be going in, and I’m thankful. Thanks for praying.
P.P.S. I haven’t forgotten about my 1 Peter fiction series- hoping to finish it before December!

I’m linking up with Tara Owens’ Christmas synchroblog – check out the other posts, and consider signing up for her Coming Home e-course.


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10 Responses to Advent and Christmas Recommendations, (Books, Music, and E-Courses)

  1. Ruth 19th November, 2013 at 9:21 pm #

    Thanks so much for this, Tanya. Just bought the Paula Gooder book and King’s College carols and very much looking forward to them.

    And hurrah for good directions with health stuff. 🙂

  2. Jamie 18th November, 2013 at 7:08 pm #

    Thank you for all the recommendations. I added the TobyMac CD to my wishlist. 🙂
    I just love this post. I love how thoughtful you are with all your choices and explanations. My family has always insisted that December 25th was only the 1st day of Christmas. The tree has to stay up till at least Epiphany. 🙂 Thanks for sharing. You are heart of gold and ray of sunshine. I always feel blessed when I read your posts.

  3. Suzanne 18th November, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    Touching Wonder is one of my favorite books. Thanks for the other recommendations as well!

  4. Cathy 13th November, 2013 at 11:21 pm #

    Thanks for these book ideas, and for sharing about the ME referral! Praying for you 🙂

  5. Tara Owens 13th November, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

    Thank you, friend. What a gift you are to me, and so many. Thanks for your transparency and grace.

  6. Amy Young 13th November, 2013 at 8:49 pm #

    I love having my resources for advent (and I love lists). Will keep praying for your health! And will reply to email this week. xx Amy

  7. Rebecka 13th November, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

    Wow, lots of great recommendations! I’d love to read all of those books, but I struggle to read anything longer than a blog post these days. Maybe next year! I will be lighting candles and listening to Christmas music, though. I love advent! Do you put electrical advent lights, and/or stars, in the windows in Britain? Maybe it’s just a Swedish tradition?

    I hope and pray the new doctor will be able to help you!

  8. Helen 13th November, 2013 at 7:27 pm #

    Some great recommendations Tanya, and I’ve learnt something new about advent :-). Really good news on the referral as well. Hope and pray that comes through quickly! Helen x

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