Books that celebrate holiday traditions

Kids will get a whole new perspective and appreciation for the many different ways Christmas and other holidays are celebrated in other parts of the world.



In our diverse and multicultural city, citizens celebrate the holidays in many different ways, which is part of what makes this season so special. This year, why not take your children on a holiday journey around the world with these books. 

The Legend of Old Befana: An Italian Christmas Story (Simon & Schuster, $23.99)
by Tomie dePaola – Ages 4-8

The legend of Santa Claus is relatively common in Canada, but in other parts of the world there are other beliefs about how Christmas gifts appear. In Italy, there is Befana. In this reprint of a picture book from author and illustrator Tomie dePaola, a new generation of Italian-Canadians can be introduced to this folk tale from the old country. Befana is an old woman who is visited by the Three Wise Men on their way to bring gifts to the newborn baby Jesus. They invite her to join them, but she declines, saying she has too much to do. Later, she changes her mind and flies off on her broom to find them. In later years, it was believed that Befana, the Christmas witch, would deliver gifts to children all over Italy on the eve of the Epiphany. Tomie dePaola is best known for his endearing story Strega Nona, and he brings the same charm to this tale. Old Befana has a gentle smile and a hunched back. She finds happiness in delivering sweets to children, discovering a new purpose and bringing joy to others.

Chanukah Lights (Candlewick Press, $40)
by Michael Rosen – Ages 4-8

Hanukkah is the Jewish wintertime festival of lights, celebrated over eight nights mid-December. Master pop-up artist Robert Sabuda applies his talents to this story by poet Michael J. Rosen, which explains the meaning of Hanukkah through historical portraits for each night of lighting the menorah. The story begins at Herod’s Temple, where there was the miracle of an oil lamp burning for eight nights. The subsequent elaborate pop-up scenes include tents in the desert, a shtetl in Russia, a boat crossing the ocean, and New York City’s Lower East Side. The book captures the large Jewish Diaspora across the world in their search for freedom from persecution. The cut-outs for the pop-ups are all in light white cardboard and full of intricate details, from a monkey climbing the roof of a synagogue to a clothesline replete with hanging laundry. Children will be fascinated by all the details in the pop-ups and this will engage them in wanting to understand the history and significance of this religious observance.

An Aboriginal Carol (Red Deer Press, $24.95)
by David Bouchard – Ages 7-10

Help immerse your children in the culture and traditions of our First Nations communities with this beautiful retelling of the Nativity story. Métis author David Bouchard writes an evocative and lyrical version of the well-known Huron Carol, weaving in the spiritual relationship Indigenous peoples have with the natural world. This special reverence of nature is highlighted in the intricate illustrations by Moses Beaver of the Nibinamik reserve in Thunder Bay representing the flora and fauna of Canada’s wilderness. Children will enjoy finding otters and bears that come out to greet the newborn child in the northern woods of Canada. There is no better gift to give children than providing them with a fresh perspective on how to view and be part of nature. The book is written in both English and Inuktituk and is accompanied by a CD that features Canadian singer Susan Aglukark performing the carol. 

Celebrate Christmas with Carols, Presents and Peace (National Geographic Society, $8.99)
by Deborah Heiligman – Ages 7-11

This reference book by National Geographic uses wonderful photographs to immerse readers in various Christmas customs around the world. The book begins by explaining how Christmas coincides with the Winter Solstice. In simple and descriptive language, the author explains where many of our Christmas traditions and beliefs come from, such as Advent. It also explores how Christmas is celebrated in other countries, taking readers to China, India, Bolivia, Germany and other countries. Activities complement the text, making the book interactive and educational.  This book will help children move away from the commercialism of Christmas towards the far richer and fascinating cultural aspects.  

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