Raymond Arroyo Talks About His New Book, Restoring Faith in America and the Christmas Tradition

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Simone Gao: (00:02)

Hello, everyone. Welcome to Zooming In with Simone Gao. Have you ever wondered why tinsels and sometimes spiders are part of your Christmas tree decoration? Today, you are going to find out. Raymond Arroyo, EWTN Lead Anchor and Fox News contributor, is going to share with me his new children's book, The Spider Who Saved Christmas. It is a beautifully illustrated book that tells a touching story about the message of Christmas, the origin of the spider decoration, and it helps to illustrate just how important the Christmas tradition is to the world. Take a listen.

Simone Gao: (00:42)

Raymond, thank you very much for joining Zooming In today.

Raymond Arroyo: (00:46)

Happy to do it.

Simone Gao: (00:47)

Okay. I know you just had a new book out, The Spider Who Saved Christmas. I have to confess among all the Christmas legends, I have never heard about the spider story. So, can you first tell us how you found the story and what's the origin of it?

Raymond Arroyo: (01:03)

Well, you are not alone. I had gone my whole life and had never heard this story, but when I was traveling in Eastern Europe, I realized on many of their trees, they obviously put a ton of tinsel on those trees but on the branches, they often have these little spiders, little spider ornaments. And I couldn't figure out why, everywhere I went in Eastern Europe, there were these spider ornaments in a tree. I thought maybe it was just a hold over from Halloween or some local tradition. Well, it turns out both the tinsel and the spiders come from this legend. And it was many years later where I was researching another book and I found a very slight citation at the end of one of these big, thick Bible commentaries. And it simply said, there is a legend of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus hiding in a cave.

Raymond Arroyo: (01:54)

And they encountered this spider who performs an important service to them. That's all it said. So I went and researched this old legend, dug it up, and I've kind of expanded it a bit, because it was very spare, and added some characterization. And I, I think it's one of the most beautiful stories of the Christmas season, because you never hear this part of the story. Whenever you think Christmas or the birth of Jesus, you think, you know, the stable and the wise men and the star. We never think about this part of the story, which is right after the birth, when the family has to take everything they have and they run to Egypt. And in my story, they're hiding in a cave for their lives, fearing that these guards are going to come in and kill them. And part of the reason I think the story has resonated so deeply with people now is because in this COVID lockdown period, so many people, so many families have been hiding in their caves trying to protect each other and the moral at the heart of this story is if you have enough faith and you have the love of family, there is great hope there and the light will eventually reveal itself. And I think that's resonated a lot with the people.

Simone Gao: (03:12)

Yeah, yeah, exactly. I mean, it's a very touching story and, uh, I can tell you really put your heart into writing it. And I think with children's stories, there's a certain gentleness and pureness in it that that can touch people's heart and soul, not just for children but for adults as well. I read the book. Yeah. I read the book, and I love it. So yeah, you, you already told me what you want to bring to the world with this wonderful story. Um, do you want to, I mean, the other question I have is, uh, you know, is this the first time you write like a children's story or you write children's story often?

Raymond Arroyo: (03:50)

Well, you know, when I had my own children, we, uh, we would read them the classics, all the books I loved growing up: Treasure Island and Jungle Book and, and, uh, uh, you know, all those great, uh, the old Harry Potter books, everything we read to our kids, the Lord of the Rings. And we sort of ran out of material. So, I began writing a middle-grade series, sort of my Harry Potter, it's called the Will Wilder series for Random House. And, um, I wrote three of those books, I'm working on the fourth. But, so that was kind of my introduction to young audiences, but this is the first picture book that I've written. Now, I'm continuing to write others. But, uh, The Spider Who Saved Christmas was my first, and I wanted it to be a family read. And that's what it's become, where grandparents and parents are reading it to children and nieces and nephews.

Raymond Arroyo: (04:38)

And they're sharing the experience together. And, like you, so many of these families, like me, they'd never heard this story before. So, it's a kind of new way to enter into the reality of the Christmas story. Um, it grounds you in the supernatural wonder of it. And, and the spider becomes a great vehicle for kids to, uh, sort of go along this path. And it does bring up a host of questions that usually you don't encounter in the normal recitation of the nativity. So, I'm delighted that it's getting families to refocus on the true mystery, the divine glory and the supernatural quality of, and the danger that surrounded this family at Christmas time, because I think that's the reality for so many families.

Simone Gao: (05:29)

Right. It is a simple story, but it does have drama in it. And the illustration is wonderful. I love those golden webs.

Raymond Arroyo: (05:36)

Yeah, no, we worked a long time. Randy Gallegos, who's the illustrator, and I worked very hard at, uh, creating dramatic, uh, spreads, dramatic illustrations. And Randy paints everything in oil by hand. And I think that shows that human touch. He doesn't use digital, uh, effects or, or, um, you know, draw digitally. He does it all by hand, and it has that old world feel that I thought the story needed because it's an old story. This is a story that goes back to the second century, but I love that it also explains, and for children, it's a, it's an eye-opener, this is why people decorate their trees with tinsel. It's not to replicate icicles. It is a, uh, tinsel is an homage to this story. So, in some ways it's the origin story of tinsel, which makes a neat connection, I think, for families and kids.

Simone Gao: (06:30)

Yeah, exactly. You know, unfortunately Christmas is under attack in America today. Uh, I know Christmas is very important to you, but can you also tell us how important Christmas is to this country as well?

Raymond Arroyo: (06:46)

Well, look, I think it's the central mystery of mankind. I mean, for Christians, uh, the, the axis upon which all of human history spins is the coming of Christ. The God-made man. And look, it's a bold concept. And, uh, uh, if God came as a little baby at this moment in history, not only did he inspire revolutions and kingdoms, love and war, all of that is bound up in the birth of this child. So, it's worth pondering, it's worth considering. And I think, um, in America, we've gotten so far away from that essential mystery and the wonder of it. And we get bombarded by reindeer and snowmen and buying and eating and selling that we lose that reality of love and wonder and divinity among us. And I think this story, at least I tried in The Spider Who Saved Christmas, to remind young families and older families of that mystery.

Raymond Arroyo: (07:54)

And, you know, children's literature has a way of awakening the child in us, the young at heart. It calls all of us, um, to that, that sense of awe. And I wanted that in this story, and I think it's resonated. I mean, I had a little girl come up to me--I was in a bookstore and a family recognized me and came over and brought the book and she asked me to sign it. And the little child was no more than four or five. And she said, I said, well, "why do you, why do you like this book?" Her grandmother told me she'd read it to her repeatedly. She kept asking about it, uh, you know, asking her to read it over and over, uh, last year. And they're going to do it again this year. And I said, "why do you like this story so much?"

Raymond Arroyo: (08:32)

And she said, "because I'm like that spider. A lot of people at school, they make fun of me. They tell me I'm not good and I don't have anything to offer." She said, "but like that spider, I know I have my little gift and I'm going to give it to God." And I thought, you know, if, if no one else ever read the book, I've achieved what I wanted to, because it touched that child in a special way. Gave her the courage to go on and know she has a gift that's all her own that, uh, the world is waiting for. And I think that's true of all of us.

Simone Gao: (09:04)

Wow, this is such a touching story. Almost brings tears to my eyes. So, I mean, did you say the book is already in the bookstore last year?

Raymond Arroyo: (09:14)

Yes. It came out last year. We were on the New York Times list for five weeks. So, we're kind of doing a reboot, because I'm going on a book tour. I couldn't last year. So, I'm going on a book tour, visiting six cities, uh, in the next few weeks and starting this week in Tampa, Florida, this weekend. And then I'm going to Houston and Dallas and New Orleans and Mesa, Arizona, Jupiter, uh, Florida. So, we've got a lot of stops, and I'm looking forward to meeting everybody and, you know, sharing my insight on what's happening today. Some stories about the book, the background of the story, and signing their books. So, uh, it, it, that's a gift to me as much as it is the other way around.

Simone Gao: (09:56)

Right, right. Are you coming to California?

Raymond Arroyo: (09:58)

Not this time. Mesa, Arizona, is as close as I'm going to get. Uh, and a part of that is some of the bookstores weren't quite open yet and willing to host events. So, we could only go where the stores could accommodate us.

Simone Gao: (10:11)

Yeah. Yeah. You have, uh, the COVID mandate is very strict.

Raymond Arroyo: (10:14)

Yeah, the mandates and the lockdowns are still in place in some places. So, that's restricted me. You know, I wanted to go to Michigan, I wanted to go to California, there are other places I would have liked to have gone, but, uh, they're not hosting in-store events. So, uh, we're doing six of them, and maybe that's enough for now. I can always start up the engines, get on my sleigh and go out next year.

Simone Gao: (10:38)

Yes. This is an ongoing thing.

Raymond Arroyo: (10:39)

Yeah.

Simone Gao: (10:40)

You know, Raymond, we're in a crossroads right now, and many people feel this world is sliding into a dark place. COVID, inflation, weak economy, communists' and socialists' influence and infiltration, danger of war. Things are not good. And yet people do not know if we can get back on the right track again. So, what's your thought on this? How should people deal with a world like this? And, uh, do you think America can become the shining city upon the hill once again?

Raymond Arroyo: (11:11)

Well, I, I think, look, you have to...hope springs eternal. And I think particularly at Christmas time, we have to kind of put politics on the back burner and focus on the things that really matter. Part of the reason that I write for children is I'm looking at the long game here. Uh, when you look at fourth grade reading levels, when 67% of fourth graders are not at a competent reading level, the implications of that are horrible. Um, it leads to incarceration and, uh, dependency on welfare, a whole host of problems come from something as simple as reading competency in fourth grade. So, we have a very small window between birth and fourth grade to really excite these kids about reading and literacy and, and the adventure of reading. Because if you, if you learn to enter a book and you learn to enter the world of a book, it creates critical thinking. Your, your imagination is triggered.

Raymond Arroyo: (12:11)

But if you, if you aren't reading, that whole world closes to you. And not only do their stories end, but our story as a people ends. So, I think we have to focus on family, um, spending time with those who really need our help, literacy programs. I always tell retirees, you have the time. Volunteer at a local school or library, read to kids. That little half hour could make the difference, uh, between a lifeline being thrown to those young children or not. Um, so I try to focus on the things we can do each day. Politics, particularly federal politics, are so far removed from our influence, but local politics, school boards, those are the things, your local community, you can affect that, you can change that. And I think if we'd begin there, then those other things will, in time, take care of themselves or not, but it's up to us. And I always say, do the thing you can do now. And that begins in your family, your community, your state. And once you, once you feel you've got a handle on that, then worry about the national politics. But we all run to the global and economic, you know, macroeconomics. You have very little impact on that. So do I. So, we have to really focus on the things that we can change and make better. And start there.

Simone Gao: (13:33)

This question is a little bit off the track, but I'm just curious. You are a man of faith, and the foundation of this country is also faith, but right now Christianity is under attack. And, uh, how do you think faith could be restored in America?

Raymond Arroyo: (13:50)

Well, there's always hope. There's always hope. And look, I think you, you look at these downturns, you look at these moments of despair. I mean, when I see inflation on the rise and you see these supply chain problems, there's a flip side to this, and the flip side is people spend less, they spend more time together. You know, God may have other plans here that are unfolding, at times through painful circumstances. So, you have to be open to that as well. Not that you want to have people suffer or be in terrible circumstances, but sometimes that's the step to true growth and, and something really positive and wonderful happening. So, we have to be open to that. But, um, your point is well taken, and I think if you read Ben Franklin, Sam Adams, John Adams, many of the founders, this entire experiment in Republican representative government, democracy, was predicated on a couple of things: a moral people and an informed people.

Raymond Arroyo: (14:54)

And I worry that we're losing both of those. And that's part of what I, why I write for children. You want them to be literate. You want them to be informed. You want them to be engaged citizens, and you can't have engaged citizens if people can't read. Similarly, you, you can't have a moral people unless they are reading and engaged. So, these things often go hand-in-hand. But, yeah, I hope, I hope that these circumstances will create a situation where we see a reflowering of faith, people dependent on God and on each other instead of the government and some foreign entity for their care and wellbeing. Um, so that may be a good side benefit of this, you know, of the pain and the awful things we're seeing around us. That you see a rediscovery of faith, because that will lead to a moral people and that will lead to better government, better outcomes, uh, you know, in the political and global sphere.

Simone Gao: (15:51)

Well said. Last question. Any tips for parents who are shopping for Christmas presents for their children this year?

Raymond Arroyo: (15:59)

Yeah, well, obviously I'm going to be self-serving. Uh, if you have a middle-grader, uh, somebody who likes those chapter books and something you can read together as generations, the Will Wilder series is a great read. And, of course, The Spider Who Saves Christmas is a wonderful story that I think will enrich your family traditions. And I built it so that it could be read on two levels. You can read it as a child, and you can read it as an adult. Um, and you'll both find something slightly different there. I think all good children's literature works on those two levels, because there's only so much...you know, a child will enjoy the ride and the foreground, the adult is going to see the shadows and the movements beneath the surface and the sharing of the, the experience. I've got letters here on my desk that, you know, the grandparents and kids interacting. That shared experience is as important, or more important, than the story they're sharing. So, I would encourage them, yes, go and get good stories. I hope you read mine, but most importantly, share it together. Take the time to read it together. Give yourselves the gift of each other and the wisdom of childhood and the wisdom of old age so you can share those experiences. That's how we progress as a people and as a culture.

Simone Gao: (17:17)

Right. Wonderful. I'm going to get my family a copy as well. The Spider Who Saved Christmas by Raymond Arroyo. Thank you, Raymond, for coming to Zooming In today. Best luck to your book and hope to talk to you very soon again.

Raymond Arroyo: (17:32)

Thank you. Thanks so much for the time.

Simone Gao: (17:34)

Thank you.

Raymond Arroyo: (17:35)

And Merry Christmas.

Simone Gao: (17:36)

Oh, Merry Christmas to you, too.

Simone Gao: (17:39)

This concludes our program for today. Please like, share and subscribe to our channel if you like our production. I would also like to make an announcement. We are producing a documentary movie right now, Xi Jinping's War on Taiwan, a lot of unique content dives right into the heart of China's behind-the-door politics. Experts from mainland China, Taiwan, and America. I will update you with our progress very often. Thanks again. And I'll see you next time.