Christmas by Heart

How to Memorize the Christmas Stories from Matthew and Luke

Learn the Christmas Stories This Advent

Don't let Advent and Christmas pass you by!

Every day during Advent and/or Christmas, you'll learn one new verse of the Christmas stories. This unique series of short, easy memory lessons will make the memorizing simple.

Many books offer a daily verse, but how long do you remember what you merely read? Learning these stories, verse by verse, will lift your thoughts to a new level. As you renew these stories, you'll find new meanings and images in the familiar words.

Think you have a bad memory? Impossible! You've just proven that your memory is excellent. Christmas by Heart will show you how to use your memory in new ways.

But don't worry, you won't need crazy memory tricks. Instead, you'll learn how to make the Bible come alive through expression, your imagination, and even rhythm. With an innovative combination of simple techniques like these, you'll make these stories part of you.

Advent doesn't have to blaze past. Christmas doesn't have to evaporate on December 26th. You can make these seasons come to life if you learn to think new thoughts. But you can only think with what you remember.

Sample Chapters

In this book,
    you will learn

the entire story of Christmas,
   from Matthew and Luke,
      by heart.

You will hear and feel the rhythms,
   imagine the scenes,
      and renew your memories.

After the season of Advent,
   and the season of Christmas,
      you’ll know the whole story.

But your memories of Christmas
   will have only begun.

Keeping the Seasons of Christmas

I love the seasons of Christmas. We have a whole season of Advent to prepare for Christmas, then a whole Christmas season to celebrate. Instead of trying to compress it all into one single crazy day, we wisely spread the experience over months.

In theory.

In real life, you do the long drive to the relatives for Thanksgiving, come home, and barely have time to dig out the ornaments before you crash into the Annual Frantic Last-Minute Gift Scavenger Hunt. Where did December go?

Suddenly, it's Christmas. Blink. Done! Welcome to December 26th, the worst day of the year. If we're lucky, we limp along until the New Year's party, poking the holiday embers to spark a little leftover cheer. More often, we have to go right back to work. It's all over.

Rituals Make It Real

Solution? The seasons. We need concrete, special rituals to keep the seasons of Advent and Christmas. Christmas is simply too much for one day.

True, we already seem to have plenty of traditions. We exchange gifts, of course, as well as lectures about not focusing on the gifts so much. The tree, the decorations, the food, the music, the parties -- even the embarrassing sweaters -- they all help make Christmas real. They lift our thoughts out of the usual workday ruts.

And yet, they aren't quite enough. Since you're reading this, you want more. You want this year to be different.

A Daily Christmas Verse

This book offers you an exciting new Advent and Christmas ritual: a daily Christmas verse. Every day, you'll learn a new verse of the Christmas story.

These verses will add up. By the end of the seasons, you'll know every Christmas verse we have in the Gospels.

Give yourself a new gift this year: the actual Gospel stories of Christmas, etched in your mind and heart.

The Perfect "Advent Sacrifice"

In theory, Advent is a penitential season. It's no Lent, but by ancient custom, many Christians are invited to choose an "Advent sacrifice" to prepare for Christmas.

In practice, 98% of Christmas parties seem to get scheduled before December 25th. Woe unto those who have given up cookies.

Why do we choose an Advent sacrifice? I don't claim to understand the full theology here, but Advent, like Lent, seems to have (at least) these two simple goals:

  • We want to make an effort. We want to do something new, that we don't usually do.
  • We want to make this effort so that we can get closer to Christ.

Learning the Christmas stories by heart meets both these goals, with elegance. Here's why.

You're Ready to Make the Effort

First, the effort. Memorizing takes effort. Period.

But don't let that discourage you. This book shows you how to minimize this effort. If you've tried to memorize before, try to forget that pain, especially if you had to do tons of repetitions, or imagine lots of bizarre mental pictures as "mnemonics".

In this book, you'll learn natural methods like finding the rhythm in the verses, and strengthening your imagination of what's actually happening in the scene. Learning by heart can (and should!) be pleasant.

Still, even at its best, learning also takes effort. It takes time. You're training a new skill, and that means forming a new habit.

What better time to train than Advent? We're already geared up for precisely this kind of project. Hopefully the effort is mostly a pleasure, but if it gets a bit difficult, well, it is an "Advent sacrifice".

Built-in Daily Time With Christ

There's a second reason to learn the Christmas stories during Advent. Unlike ditching chocolate or even adding a daily rosary, learning these verses automatically helps you think about Christ.

Yes, self-denial and prayers have major spiritual value. But it's one thing to try to imagine Christ while you repeat Our Fathers. It's quite a different experience to say the words of the Bible, to tell those stories. It's easier to think about what you're saying, because you're always saying something new.

Also, for a time, you'll say these words every day. Now, don't panic! Telling the verses doesn't take long, and you won't have to do it every day forever. In fact, these daily recitations become built-in daily meditation time.

You don't have to choose an Advent sacrifice, and then also figure out some way to "enter more deeply into the season". When you choose to learn the Christmas stories by heart, you choose to think about Christ every single day.

An Exhortation to Party

One side note: when Christmas does come, don't forget to celebrate.

When's the last time you went to a Christmas party after December 25th? What's all this Advent preparation for, if Christmas only lasts one day?

I'm Catholic, so for me, Christmas actually lasts eight whole days. We call it the "Octave of Christmas." Eight days! And our Christmas season doesn't end until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, in mid-January.

If we want to be selectively traditional, we can even keep celebrating Christmas until February 2. This is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also called "Candlemas".

Many other Christians have similar traditions on the books. How long does your Christmas season last?

This year, let's give Christmas the weeks it deserves. Learning these verses is a great start. But as you say them every day, I hope you're moved to find other ways to celebrate too. Christmas comes but once a year -- let's make it last. Consider this your official exhortation to party.

A Habit Worth Savoring

And if you begin your memory journey at the start of Advent, the steepest bit of the learning curve will be long gone by Christmas. The "penitential" side effects (if any) will be much reduced, and you'll be able to savor your new habit as you celebrate a full season of Christmas. Prepare to enjoy a powerful new habit.

How This Book Will Help You Learn the Christmas Stories This Advent

This book includes two major aids to learning the Christmas stories this Advent, plus a bonus feature.

First, you get the verses of Luke 2 and Matthew 2, typeset as rhythmic stories. Although you could learn the verses from any Bible, this book uses a visually memorable layout. Instead of blocks of prose, you see these words with rhythms that move like poetry. This gives each verse a more unique look, and also helps you speak and hear the verses with rhythm. They become much easier to remember.

Second, you get the Books by Heart™ lessons. These lessons will show you, step-by-step, how to remember a long text like Luke 2 and Matthew 2. These lessons form the core of this book. They've also appeared in other books in the series, such as Lent by Heart or Easter by Heart.

The bulk of these lessons are the same in every book in this series, because all these books focus on memorizing the same kinds of texts. But in each book, I adapt certain examples and discussions for the particular text we're learning. In this book, we'll focus on the Christmas stories from Matthew and Luke.

You can read the whole book at once, but the lessons are also designed so that you can read one lesson a day. You start learning one new verse a day right away, and the lessons gradually tell you what you need to know as the days pass.

As a bonus feature, I've also included rhythmic verses for Luke 1 and Matthew 1. These chapters tell the stories before Christmas, such as the visits of the angel to Mary and Joseph, and the birth of John the Baptist.

I've also added the second half of Luke 2, which completes the childhood of Christ, with stories like the Finding in the Temple.

Why not learn these selections during future Advents? Once you learn all four of these chapters (Luke 1-2, and Matthew 1-2), you'll know the entire "Infancy Narratives" -- every word we have in the Bible about the childhood of Christ.

I use the Douay-Rheims Challoner version for the all the Scripture in this book. This old translation will probably remind you of the famous King James version. Although the DRC presents some challenges, it also has features that make it a great choice for memorizing. I explain these features in a later chapter.

Let's begin with a slow, thoughtful reading of Luke 2 and Matthew 2.

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