Booktalks and Engaging Readers is a monthly series that is mostly dedicated to children’s books. In addition to sharing quality literature with teachers and families, this series will share resources for what works — and what doesn’t — for encouraging and engaging readers, and building habits for everyone involved (child, teacher, and adult at home). For previous posts, explore the Booktalks and Engaging Readers tag.
As we near the holiday season, it’s a perfect time to teach, read, and learn more about the traditions that your family celebrates. It’s also an opportunity to learn about other religions and holidays around the world!
Let books be the teacher
Talking about other religious holidays and traditions can be difficult mostly because many are unknown to us. It can be hard to develop the language and vocabulary to engage in these discussions without some help. Books are a perfect tool for this. They do the talking for us and usually have pictures to build our understanding.
You may find out things you didn’t know, even about a holiday you celebrate, and you can always research further if something sparks your interest. For holidays different than your own, books can give a quick overview or summary or can lead you to do more serious research. One book might make you want to explore other books, talk to friends or classmates, or do online searches to learn more.
Below is a list of books that introduce some of the holidays around the world during this season. These have all been reviewed as being are accurate, comprehensive, and child-!
Holiday: Bodhi Day (12/8) – celebrated in China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan to commemorate enlightenment and meditation in remembrance of Siddhartha Gautama achieving enlightenment
Book: Zen and Bodhi’s Snowy Day by Gina Bates Brown and Sarah Jane Hinder
Holiday: Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe (12/12) – celebrated in Mexico and the southwest U.S., honors the reported appearance of the mother of Jesus in Mexico City during the 16th century.
Book: Our Lady of Guadalupe for Children/Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe para ninos (English and Spanish version) by Lupita Vital and Flor Larios
Holiday: Saint Lucia Day (12/13) – celebrated in some Scandinavian countries, Sweden, and Italy, honors Saint Lucia, the patron saint of Sweden that combines Christian and pre-Christian traditions.
Book: Lucia Morning in Sweden by Ewa Rydaker
Holiday: Diwali (where this falls in the religious calendar; normally around October/November) – 5 day long Hindu holiday that celebrates good over evil and is referred to as the “Festival of Lights”
Book: Diwali (Celebrate the World) by Hannah Eliot and Archana Sreenivasan
Holiday: Chinese New Year (first day of the Lunar New Year; normally between mid-January to mid-February) – a 15-day celebration of the New Lunar Year, celebrated in Mainland China with parades and festivals
Book: My First Chinese New Year (My First Holiday) by Karen Katz
Holiday: Yule (winter solstice; normally around 12/21 or 12/22) – celebrated by some Northern European countries, Pagans and Wiccans to celebrate the return of light according to seasons, daylight, and warmth.
Book: Yule: A Celebration of Light and Warmth (Holiday Series) by Dorothy Morrison
Holiday: Hanukkah (religious calendar time; late November into late December) – celebrated by those with Jewish faith over an eight-day Festival of Lights honoring the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
Book: The Story of Hanukkah by David A. Adler
Holiday: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (12/24 and 12/25) – celebrated by those in the Christian faith who celebrate the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
Book: The Christmas Story by Jane Werner Watson (a short “Little Golden Book” that focuses on the retelling of the religious background of Christmas traditions).
Holiday: Kwanzaa (12/26 – 1/1) – A seven-day holiday that celebrates African culture. On the sixth day of Kwanzaa, there’s a Kwanzaa Karamu, which is a feast and celebration through gift giving, the lighting of the Kinara, and performing traditional music.
Book: My First Kwanzaa by Karen Katz and Together for Kwanzaa by Juwanda G. Ford and Shelly Hehenberger
Holiday: Las Posadas (12/16 – 12/24) celebrated mainly in Latin America, Mexico, Guatemala, Cuba, and some Hispanics in the United States, a nine-day celebration before Christmas that encourages participants to re-enact and play the parts of Mary, Joseph, and others.
Book: The Night of Las Posadas by Tomie dePaola
What, when, and how much?
Some families have concerns around this topic. Some people wonder: How much should I teach other religious practices? Will this confuse my child – there are so many holidays and religions out there! Where do I start and how do I choose?
Take a deep breath and relax!
Find comfort in knowing that you can’t go wrong here. The acknowledgement and awareness that there are MANY holidays out there in the world is the point of exploring other traditions. If it’s important to you and your family to teach about your specific religion or holiday celebration, of course use your values and judgment. A good practice would be to start or end each reading session with a book related to your cultural or religious practice.
Discuss during the holidays and continue the conversation
Giving your child this preview into the world and its multifaceted traditions, cultures, and diverse holidays will most likely spark an interest and inquiry to other similarities and differences at other times of the year also. When your child has a question about why a classmate might do or act differently than they do, this is a good way to remind them that we are all unique in many ways. When your child has questions about traditions, race, or equality, you can reflect on the exploring you did here together – the holiday season. The reading, questioning, and discussion you have with your child about other holidays, customs, and cultures can be a great example for future moments when these questions arise again. Pointing back to this moment of inquiry and research shows that curiosity and learning can help us create a more present and open mind to the beautiful and diverse world around us!
What are some of your favorite holiday books? What questions have come from your children that center around religion, traditions, or culture?
How else do you find ways to teach, read, and learn about other holidays around the world?