My wife came across Keeping Holiday by Starr Meade while searching for possible Christmas presents that our kids could give their friends. While we were familiar with the author’s family worship guides using the Westminster Shorter Catechism, we decided with some hesitation (since we hadn’t read it ourselves) to buy a lot of Keeping Holiday as kid gifts. Based on the glowing reviews from respected Reformed folks like R.C. Sproul, Michael Horton, and Susan Hunt, we took the chance of handing out “blind gifts”. Not a practice I recommend, but this time it turned out great.
I just finished reading the book to my kids, ages 11 to 5 (my 3 year old didn’t have the patience to sit that long). Because of our busy family schedule, it took us about 3 weeks to work through the 11 short chapters (the book is 192 pages). This was waaay tooo slooow for them! Each time we reached the end of the chapter, they were begging for more. That’s quite a cool feeling for a parent to have. :-)
Keeping Holiday is a quest story. When cousins Dylan and Clare discover that the town of Holiday where the family vacations each Christmas is merely the “Visitor’s Center” of the real town of Holiday, they embark on a four-day adventure to find the magical town of Holiday so they might get authorized by the Founder of the town to enter any time. What begins as a desire for Holiday evolves into an overwhelming urge to find the Founder. But as the saying goes: “You don’t find the Founder, he finds you. He’s not just the Founder, he’s the Finder too.” (Yes, it rhymes). But time is running out because the visitor’s passes given to Dylan and Clare are only good for four days. If they don’t get authorized by the end of their stay, they can never return to Holiday. They must battle fatigue, doubt, despair, hunger and thirst, temptation, and the wily Mr. Smith who seems to appear at every turn discouraging their quest for a Holiday he claims doesn’t exist.
I’ve noticed for me a good barometer for rating a story’s ability to speak to adults and kids is whether I am emotionally moved on a level that children may not understand. At several places in the story, especially in the last chapter, I began to choke up and my voice was cracking as I read aloud. Not on purpose, mind you, but nevertheless it served as a sign to my kids that what they were hearing is profound and important. Starr Meade writes profound theological truths at a level even a child can comprehend. Yet this is not merely a children’s book. As an allegory, it speaks to adults in the same way that C.S. Lewis’s Narnia and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress does. These are the two books that constantly came to mind throughout, for Keeping Holiday is a blending of the fantasy and allegory genres, with the plot unfolding as an adventurous quest. For a while I have wondered what to read my kids after those 2 classics. Keeping Holiday is one answer to that question. It will remind you why people long for heaven, and why Christians long for most of all because we will see the Founder and Finder. My kids want me to read it to them every Advent Season. It’s a wonderful way to prepare for Christmas as a meditation on the nature of salvation and the Christian life.