In his new book Christmas Around the Fire, Ryan Topping shares great works from renowned poets and novelists. Photo by Lincoln Ho

Author aims to build a Christmas tradition

By  Andrew Ehrkamp, Canadian Catholic News
  • December 12, 2019

EDMONTON -- Sometimes the best gifts are not bought at a shopping mall, wrapped in paper and tied with ribbon.

They can be as simple and profound as a good story, shared together with family and friends.

As the Advent season unfolds and Christmas approaches, author Ryan Topping invites readers to share his family’s tradition of reading together around the fireplace. First, stories are read with the kids. Then the brandy and egg nog are brought out, and the adults read together.

In his new book Christmas Around the Fire, Topping shares great works — from the solemn to the heart-warming — from renowned poets and novelists. Topping curates works from G.K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens, Canadians Catherine Doherty and humourist Stephen Leacock, as well as the thoughts of religious figures such as Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

These are a compilation of the Topping family’s favourite stories and a departure from the academic books written by Topping, the academic dean at Edmonton’s Newman Theological College.

“The goal of the book was to try to hit all ages,” said Topping, a father of nine. “In a way, it’s a little bit of a gift from our family to other families. That’s because it draws from our own experiences reading in this way and being nourished by certain stories.”

In an interview with Grandin Media, Topping shares some insights about the book.

Q: Tell me about the book.

A: This is really the only book of mine that my mother will read, I think. Usually I work on more academic books. This is a gift book, and it’s meant to try to insinuate Christian culture. Why do we need stories? Stories have a far more powerful capacity to shape our thinking, our imagination, our emotional life. A good story is one that the kids will love and the adults will love. And so all of these stories are stories like that. 

Q: How can families start a tradition of reading together?

A: We often think of Christmas as what happens before Christmas. In fact, in the Church there’s this beautiful sequence where you get an unfolding of the mysteries of the Incarnation starting with Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. They each have their own special gift to offer. The goal here is to try to help families initiate themselves into the various movements, you might say, of the grand event which is the Incarnation.

What we need to work at cultivating — and it’s joyful — is a sense of holy leisure. What you do when you’re not working should be fun, should be pleasant, even while it’s good. So turn off the Internet. That’s why people aren’t doing good things. They have accepted B-rate pleasures.

Q: Have we lost the meaning of Christmas — the birth of Christ?

A: Our society is becoming deeply de-Christianized, and you can see it by all kinds of metrics. However, the fact is Christianity remains dominant overwhelmingly in the country. Evangelistically, one of our goals should be to find what’s good and blow on those embers which are still present for many people.

It’s no surprise that Dickens (two of Dickens’ essays, “The Spirit of Christmas Past” and “What Christmas Is as We Grow Older,” are included in the book) is universally loved for a hundred years, because he’s able to touch us in a way that doesn’t feel too heavy and yet it draws us closer to Christ. It tries to represent the joy of the season and it’s solemnity.

Q: What’s your favourite story in the book?

A: It’s “The Other Wise Man” by Henry Van Dyke. It’s fantastic. It’s an imaginative tale about — we all know about the three wise men — about a fourth that didn’t quite make it on the journey as he wished to. It draws you into the time of Jesus and it’s a page turner. It’s a thriller. And it’s redemptive.

Q: For families who don’t have reading as a tradition, what do you suggest?

A: Pick some time before bed. Take 20 minutes every night for a week. Make your way through a story or two and see how it goes. One of the problems with Christmas now is that it’s too busy. Trees are up after Halloween.

Making time to read is also a way to make time to be a little bit quiet and not so busy, especially in Advent where we’re often going to parties when really it’s meant to be a bit of a sober time.

(Christmas Around The Fire is available at Edmonton’s Newman Theological College book store, and at

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