December is on the horizon, and though there are many, many holidays celebrated in December, sometimes it can feel (in America, anyway) that Christmas is the only one. Sure, people attempt inclusion and say “winter holidays,” but often, that’s merely a euphemism for Christmas. But the reality is that there are so many holidays to learn about, and if building an inclusive classroom, home, or bookshelf is important to us, learning about different holidays (and reading books about them) is important.
Actually, no, let me take that back. Learning about different religions and holidays is important because that’s part of being an empathetic, aware human being. Not everyone celebrates the same holidays, and we should all be curious about different traditions other than our own. We should learn about other cultures or religions and what they celebrate. The world is a big place, and to only know your immediate culture and religion is to miss out on a lot.
I put together a list of books to go along with different holidays that occur in December. Most of the books are for kids, as that was my initial intended audience, since I typically am on the lookout for holiday books of all kinds for us to read this time of year.
This is not an exhaustive list of holidays by any means and should not be treated as such. Instead, consider it a springboard to learning more about other holidays — and there are plenty more winter holidays coming up, too: January brings the Hindu festival of Maghi, and February brings holidays like the Pagan/Wiccan festival of Imbolc, the Muslim observance of Lailat al Miraj, and Lunar New Year, among others.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
Various Holidays in December
Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are usually the other two holidays I see most often besides Christmas, and there are lots of great books out there, including Hanukkah Around the World by Tami Lehman-Wilzig and Vicki Wehrman, Hanukkah Moon by Debora Da Costa and Gosia Mosz, The People Remember by Ibi Zoboi and Loveis Wise, and Seven Spools of Thread by Angela Shelf Medearis and Daniel Minter.
Here are a few recommendations for winter holidays I don’t see represented as often in children’s books.
Under the Bodhi Tree by Deborah Hopkinson and Kailey Whitman
Bodhi Day is on December 8 (this is the secular date; the other date follows the lunar calendar and changes each year), and it’s a Buddhist holiday commemorating the day the Buddha attained enlightenment. Customs can vary depending on the country but can include meditation, studying the Dharma, stringing up colorful lights symbolizing paths to enlightenment, or decorating a Bodhi tree. This book tells the story of the boy who would later become the Buddha; it is written in beautiful prose and perfect for introducing kids to Buddhism.
Our Lady of Guadalupe by Francisco Serrano, Felipe Davalos, and Eugenia Guzman
The Feast Day of Our Lady Guadalupe is observed on December 12. It’s a Catholic feast day often celebrated by Latine Catholic communities. Our Lady of Guadalupe holds special significance in Mexican life as a figure who watches over people, supports them, and protects them. She is Mexico’s patron saint. To learn more about her, this book is a vibrant pop-up book that tells the story of Juan Diego, the peasant to whom Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared. The story itself is simply written but easy to understand, and the art and pop-up aspect of the book provides rich detail.
Uno, Dos, Tres, Posada! by Virginia Kroll and Loretta Lopez
Las Posadas is celebrated in Mexico and parts of the US from December 16-24. It commemorates Joseph and Mary’s trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, looking for a safe place to stay so Mary could give birth. This book for younger kids isn’t about Las Posadas per se, but it’s a fun counting book that also introduces Spanish words to young readers. Counting down the nine days before Christmas, the reader is shown all the preparations that need to be done each day and what needs to be set out for the party. Another great book to check out is Tomie dePaola’s The Night of Las Posadas.
Yule: A Celebration of Light & Warmth by Dorothy Morrison
While many people know the winter solstice, fewer people know it as Yule or Saturnalia. On the shortest day and longest night, which usually falls between December 20-23 but is often celebrated on December 21, Yule occurs. It begins the Wiccan Year and celebrates a return of the light since the days get incrementally longer. This book explains the history of Yule, traditions and symbols, different winter holiday customs around the world, and plenty of suggestions for gifts, food, and celebrations. The writing skews a bit older, so it’s better for middle grade readers or a read-aloud. For younger kids, The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper is a great picture book.
There are lots of other winter holidays as well to explore — St. Lucia Day, Boxing Day, St. Nicholas Day, and more. But what if you want a book about multiple holidays or simply celebrating winter? Don’t worry; I’ve got you covered there, too!
Interfaith and Winter Celebration Books
There are many books that have either stories of families who celebrate multiple holidays from different faiths or cultures, or nonfiction books introducing different holidays. Growing up in an interfaith household myself, I rarely, if ever, saw books like this when I was a little kid in the 1980s. Seeing these kinds of books now heartens me.
Books that simply celebrate winter are fun to read right now, too, and I think they can easily get lost in the holiday book enthusiasm.
Sparkles of Joy by Aditi Wardhan Singh
This book is a sweet book that covers Diwali, Hanukkah, and Christmas. Caleb is new to the neighborhood, and Riya has a Diwali-themed play date for kids in the neighborhood and invites him. They end up sharing stories about the holidays they celebrate and what they do with their families, and realize that while the holidays may be different, they also have a lot in common. There’s also more information about the holidays and questions to spark conversation in the back of the book, which I really like.
Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night by Megan Litwin and Nneka Myers
When the nights are longer, and the temperatures drop, it’s the perfect time to read cozy books like this one. In this book that’s a fun twist on the classic “twinkle twinkle little star” nursery rhyme, kids read about lights around town on a winter’s night: the moon, candles in windows, holiday lights, and more. The illustrations are comforting and rich, and you’ll want to snuggle up for this winter read that’s free of mentions of any holidays and is just a joyful celebration of winter.
Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner
This series is wonderful, showing kids what worlds lie over and under different parts of the earth. This book takes readers through the woods on a winter cross-country ski trip, showing how quiet and calm it is over the snow, but then there’s another world under the snow, where various animals have made their homes for the winter. It’s a fun but also educational look at what happens in the winter after it snows, after the animals have gone into hibernation.