Susan Jerger: Books are the perfect holiday tradition

The holidays are a time of family bonding and giving.

Books are the best way to do both.

When I first joined my husband’s family for Christmas Eve celebrations many years ago, I was charmed by their Polar Express tradition. Each year, they end festivities by cracking open a well-worn copy of the Chris Van Allsburg picture book. Everyone takes a turn reading a page, ringing a bell, and then passing the book on to the next family member. They always start from youngest to oldest and repeat until the last page.

I threw a wrench into their tradition when I joined them, the first addition ever. Everyone kindly shifted the pages they’d read for many years (and had frankly memorized) and developed a new order.

Several years later our daughter was born, then our son — they had assistance for the first few years with their pages. Then another in-law was added into the mix. With each instance we all shifted the pages we read with no complaint, joyous to have more family joining in on the tradition.

Perhaps the most momentous addition was my sister-in-law’s and her husband’s adoption of two brothers they’d fostered, barely school age. It was delightful to hear their childish voices sound out the words and see their awe experiencing this tradition for the first time. I still get a little choked up remembering the expression on my in-law’s faces when the “littles” read with us for the first time.

Books were not a big part of my early childhood, and I confess I’d never even heard of The Polar Express before my first Christmas Eve with my husband’s family. I’m thankful for their love of reading and how it has led to my children’s love of books well beyond participating in this beloved annual tradition.

Since I was a “late blooming” reader, I get very excited to share books with my family. Some of them have become readers over the years, though some haven’t embraced my favorite hobby just yet. However, I have hope for them. Each holiday season (and birthday) I spend time pondering the perfect read for each of my family members and friends, particularly the reluctant and newer readers. I am very fortunate to have wonderful resources at my fingertips at the Greenwood Public Library, especially this holiday season.

I don’t always know what to pick for younger readers or adult nonfiction lovers, so I’m using GPL’s new Holiday Book Guide. If you need gift book suggestions as well, check out And, of course, you can always visit our kids and teen librarians for more engaging suggestions, or visit me and the other adult services librarians on the second floor for ideas for the adults in your life.

I look forward to reading The Polar Express together again soon. In the meantime, I will keep searching for the perfect gift books for all my family members and friends. This holiday season try starting a family reading tradition. Find the perfect read to ignite a family member or friend’s imagination this holiday season.