The winter holiday season can be such a special time for many families, but can be tricky or even isolating for others. It depends what your religious affiliation (or lack thereof) is, what your own childhood was like, and so many more factors that come into play this time of year. I was raised in a Christian faith (Catholic) but my husband and I have chosen not to raise our kids in a religious household, preferring instead a spiritual path of kindness, love, nature, and being a good human without the religiously institutionalized rules. In truth, we’re agnostics who want to raise good humans to learn about every religion and way of thinking and make their own decisions about what their heart tells them is true and to be more accepting of all people than we often see (or saw growing up) in some religious communities. Don’t get me wrong — I think there is so much that is wonderful about the community you find at church, the lovely rituals and traditions, and the overall idea behind Christianity. But much of the rules and teachings aren’t something that align with our personal social values or what feels right in our hearts as what is right for our family (but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right for yours and we respect that too!). So Christmas can be tricky for us, because we don’t celebrate it as Christians. Instead, we use it as a time to talk about giving and service to others, slowing down and spending time with family, and as a teaching tool to learn about what it means to others. But I still like to incorporate Christmas traditions that my husband and I both had growing up (Santa, a Christmas tree, an advent calendar with service projects and family fun activities, etc) into our own family celebration.
Because we don’t default to the Nativity/Jesus’s birthday story, I like to find books that we can read as a family to explain both that concept as well as other religious celebrations like Hanukkah, Kwanza, Diwali, as well as things like the winter solstice. I thought I would share some books that we love (or that are in my cart right now to add to our library this year) that share a variety of stories, a diverse look at the winter holidays, and that give you more than just Jesus and Santa (although they are included too). Some of our more “traditional” favorites are pictured above as well, but I think many of those are well-known and in many of your holiday libraries already. I hope some of the recs below introduce you to a new story that your family will love:
- A World of Cookies For Santa — a look at how the Santa tradition is done in different countries across the globe.
- Christmas Around the World — different stories about how Christmas is celebrated around the world
- Refuge: a new spin on the Nativity story, focusing on Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus as refugees who had to rely on the kindness of others for survival and protection (very topical and a good way to talk to your kids about the current refugee crisis at our southern border.)
- Oskar and the Eight Blessings — a lovely story about a refugee boy, Hanukkah, and acts of kindness
- The Diwali Gift
- The Little Reindeer
- Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins — a classic Hanukkah tale that has lessons of courage, faith, and keeping a good sense of humor even when the world around you is a scary place.
- The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice
- Amma, Tell Me About Diwali
- The Tomten — classic story of the Tomten’s nocturnal visits to all of the residents of wintry farm has been reminding children of the promise of spring for decades.
- Hanukkah Bear: interesting facts about the history and traditions of Hanukkah weaved within a sweet story, and a latke recipe is included!
- Celebrating the Great Mother: A Handbook of Earth-Honoring Activities for Parents and Children
- The Lump of Coal (for older kiddos who no longer believe in Santa or if you don’t do Santa in your home)
- The Nutcracker
- Howard B. Wigglebottom and the Power of Giving: A Christmas Story
- Polar Express
- Night Tree — a story about a family who decorates the same tree each year for the forrest animals, rather than cutting one down each year
- Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanza Story
- The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story — a story that teaches about the strength and courage of a family and the true spirit of Christmas
What are your favorite holiday books, traditional, religious, or more inclusive of all celebrations? We love adding to our library. Do you have any of these books? Do you do alternative Christmas or winter holiday celebrations? I’d love to hear about all of your experiences!
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