Imagine a family - mum, dad and children, all in their pyjamas - snuggled up together on the sofa, drinking hot chocolate and listening to dad read a favourite Christmas story. No, it's not a flashback to the 1950s; it's what parents have told us they will be doing this year.
Christmas is a catalyst for parents to read to their children. At this time of year normal life is suspended and magic takes over. We have found that parents and children associate Christmas with reading and stories, they have their own traditions around this and they treasure them.
As part of our on-going research we've recently talked to 1000 parents to shed some light on what it is that makes books and reading so much a part of Christmas. We know this to be so - every year publishers see the significant spike in children's book sales leading up to Christmas. Despite this good news we also know children's reading for pleasure is being challenged. Our research this year found that for very many families there are three forces at play that are squeezing children's reading: hectic family life and lack of time, school focusing on reading as a skill to learn above all else (so much so that the pleasure part is lost for many children), and a surfeit of recreational screen time. So it has been really wonderful to hear that at this time of year children are read to more than usual. We found that a quarter of two-11-year-olds who are read to, whatever the frequency in the normal course of the year (from every day to rarely), are read to more than usual at Christmas. That equates to 1.8million children.
Christmas offers a few days to focus on being together, bonding and comfort, almost as if families regroup after a hard year. Time is in very short supply year round, but at Christmas parents do have time for their children and they want to make Christmas magical for them. We found that reading is a big part of that and at the heart of their traditions - parents feel reading to their children helps make Christmas special and it helps build anticipation. Stories are associated with Christmas just as much as brandy butter is with mince pies.
"We always sit in our PJs and read a Christmas story on Christmas Eve. We all snuggle up to help relax us and it gets us in the Christmas spirit. It's part of Christmas and reading is magical."
"Christmas stories are always magical and always read, mostly because we have time because we are not working!"
It's a time of year when the nostalgia of continuing intensely personal family traditions is very important to many families. These shared traditions and rituals offer a sense of togetherness and belonging, taking families to the heart of things. The power of reading to connect people is evident and it seems the act of reading reinforces a sense of family and is an expression of family love. Parents remember being read to themselves and see they are passing on a family tradition and sense of family identity.
"Getting all snuggled up in pyjamas and reading together. The Christmas lights are on. It's fantastic."
"I had The Night Before Christmas read to me and I have continued this tradition with my son."
We found a huge list of favourite books. These are the top ten:
1. The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore
2. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
4. The Nativity Story
5. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
6. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
7. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
8. Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs
9. Mr. Christmas (Mr. Men series) by Roger Hargreaves
10. The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
And the story most likely to be read on Christmas Eve is, perhaps unsurprisingly, The Night Before Christmas.
It shows that when parents have the time and they want to create a feeling of magic and comfort, stories are still at the heart of their traditions. How lovely it would be if the time could be found and this love of stories and reading could be replicated, even a little bit, more than once a year.
You can see the results of our latest survey in full here: http://readinglives.egmont.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Egmont-Reading-Street-ch4.pdf