The holidays are a wonderful time to teach children about celebrations and traditions in other cultures. If you have been following our Holiday Celebrations Around the World series, you have noticed the uniqueness with which each country approaches the holidays. We love introducing our children to other cultures, and sharing holiday story books from around the world is a tradition we treasure in our home year after year. Here are some of our favorites:
Cobweb Christmas: The Tradition of Tinsel by Shirley Climo
Everybody loves Christmas at Tante’s. The old lady decorates a wonderful tree and makes certain to have something for all who come to visit, be it the nearby village children or the shy animals of the pine forest. The only creatures Tante overlooks are the spiders she has swept out of her cottage while cleaning. But the curious spiders want to come inside and see Tante’s tree, too. When a midnight visitor lets them into the old lady’s home, they unknowingly spin Tante the very gift she has longed for, a gift that has inspired the draping of tinsel on Christmas trees ever since. This German tale about the warmth and wonder of Christmas will leave children enchanted with the magical possibilities of the season.
The Legend of Old Befana by Tomie de Paola
This is a delightful reading of the favorite Italian Christmas story about an eccentric old woman and her never-ending search for the Baby King. Tommy de Paola writes many wonderful books, but his holiday tales are some of my favorites.
Christmas Wombat by Jackie French
It seems like Christmas will be just another day for the wombat . . . until she smells carrots! In this charming picture book, the star of Diary of a Wombat goes head to head with Santa’s reindeer in competition for carrots—and wins. Then, as an accidental stowaway on Santa’s sleigh, she learns that carrots are internationally available. No wonder she isn’t hungry for treats on Christmas morning! Engaging illustrations delightfully complement the spare text in this unique, wombat’s-eye view of a favorite holiday.
Simon and the Bear: A Hanukkah Tale by Eric A. Kimmel
Before Simon sails to America, he promises his family that he will get a job and send for them. Simon’s mother knows he will need a miracle, so she reminds him to celebrate Hanukkah wherever he may be. Little does either of them know that Simon will spend the first night of Hanukkah on an ice floe after his ship sinks.The lone survivor out in the wide ocean, Simon lights the first candle, and it attracts a visitor: a polar bear. Find out what happens next in this fanciful Hanukkah tale that celebrates eight miracles: family, friendship, hope, selflessness, sharing, faith, courage, and love. A retelling of the ancient Hanukkah story is included on the last page.
Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story by Angela Shelf Medearis
In an African village live seven brothers who make life miserable with their constant fighting. When their father dies, he leaves an unusual will: by sundown, the brothers must make gold out of seven spools of thread or they will be turned out as beggars. This is an original folktale that will help introduce children to the holiday’s seven principles, while also suggesting how Kente cloth was first created.
Brigid’s Cloak by Bryce Milligan
Brigid’s Cloak retells an ancient tale about one of Ireland’s most beloved saints. On the day she is born Brigid receives a brilliant blue cloak from a mysterious Druid. Years later, the young girl still wears the now tattered but beloved cloak while she tends her sheep. Is it her imagination that suddenly takes her to an unfamiliar land? Or is it something far greater that leads Brigid to a crowded inn in a town called Bethlehem?
A festive Latino twist on “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” populating it with piñatas in place of partridges, plus burritos bailando (dancing donkeys), lunitas cantando (singing moons), and much more, all displayed in the most vivid colors imaginable. In this version a little girl receives gifts from a secret amiga, whose identity is a sweet surprise at the book’s conclusion. There are things to find and count in Spanish on every page, with pronunciations provided right in the pictures and a glossary and music following the story. A joyous fiesta for all.
Uncle Vova’s Tree by Patricia Polacco
Based on Polacco’s childhood memories, this is the story of her Great-uncle Vladimir, known as Vova, and his colorful and inventive celebrations of the Russian Orthodox holiday of Epiphany. Polacco’s art warmly depicts the vibrant costumes and decorations from her family’s homeland, and the text conveys the magical feeling of a child’s wonder and joy during the holidays.
A Gnome’s Christmas by Rien Poortvliet
A mysterious box found in an old barn in Finland contains papers which detail how gnomes celebrate Christmas with games, music, food, and stories.
Lucia Morning in Sweden by Ewa Rydaker
The book tells the story of Santa Lucia through the eyes of three children in modern-day Sweden. It describes their giddy activities, brought to life in colorful, full-page illustrations, and also provides sheet music, recipes, and sewing patterns for the costumes traditionally worn by children on this day, when many Swedish people celebrate the legacy of Lucia and the coming of the light with coffee, saffron buns, ginger snaps, and wonderful singing. One of the most beloved and celebrated traditions of the Swedish people, Lucia Day also signifies that the Christmas holiday is getting close.
Tree of Cranes by Allen Say
As a young Japanese boy recovers from a bad chill, his mother busily folds origami paper into delicate silver cranes in preparation for the boy’s very first Christmas. The story is a poignant one, illuminated with finely drawn illustrations reflecting the serenity of a Japanese home and the quiet love between mother and son.
The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
This post is part of The Jenny Evolution’s Winter + Holiday Children Story Books series, be sure to visit and find other great recommendations for the season!