Originally published 11/28/22. Updated 11/18/23.
Why Read Diverse Holiday Picture Books to Your Kids?
Reading diverse holiday picture books to your kids brings them awareness and appreciation for the practices and values of other cultures. This can help them build empathy and more easily connect with people who live differently than they do.
This holiday season, use diverse holiday picture books to help your kiddos learn about celebrations from around the world (and maybe even just down the street!). These children’s books will give your little ones a window into a variety of cultures and get them excited about all of the festivities that are out there.
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Want to get straight to the books? You can find them all linked here.
8 Diverse Holiday Picture Books
Keep reading to learn about eight winter holidays beyond the Christmas festivities that are usually most visible in Western culture this time of year. If your family (like mine) has traditionally celebrated in this way, that’s wonderful! I’m excited to give my little one the whole magical Christmas experience. But because representation of other cultures and their celebrations are often lacking where we live, I want to make sure that she sees representation of them in our home.
Along with each holiday, you’ll find a children’s book that you can use to teach your kiddos (and yourself) about the holiday and the experience of celebrating it.
1. Yule or Winter Solstice
Yule is the pagan and Wiccan festival celebrating the Winter Solstice. Since the Autumn Equinox, the nights have been growing longer, leading to the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice is celebrated on December 21.
Pagans celebrate the return of the sun with feasting, Yule logs, candles, and exchanging gifts. Many of the Christmas decorations and traditions that we see today originated from European pagans’ celebrations of the winter solstice.
Teach your little ones about the Winter Solstice with Luke and the Longest Night from Moondust Press.
Luke loves the winter solstice, a celebration filled with songs, treats, and best of all gifts. But when a thunderstorm turns out the lights on his Yule party, Luke will remember what really matters most—the joy of being with those we love.
Yalda is the Persian observation of the Winter Solstice, celebrated on December 21, the longest night of the year. It’s possible that Yalda has been celebrated for more than 7,000 years! (1)
Iranians around the world celebrate the rebirth of the sun by gathering with friends and family and reading the poetry of Hafiz. Fruits and nuts are favorite foods for Yalda night celebrations, especially pomegranates and Walnuts.
Learn more about Yalda with the book Yalda Night (in Persian & English).
Inspired by the art of the Qajar Era, “Yalda Night” introduces children to one of the most beloved Iranian celebrations of the year. It is winter, and six-year-old Soraya is sad because it is too cold and dark to play outside. Everything changes when she discovers that the family traditions of gathering together on the longest and darkest night of the year can give her the warmth and love she needs to get through the winter. In anticipation of spring, Soraya snacks on nuts and sweets, plays with her cousin, and dances to her Dad’s music.
Diwali is India’s festival of lights, celebrated in November over five days. Different regions of India ascribe different religious significance to Diwali. But in general, this festival honors the “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance” (2).
Celebrations of Diwali involve cleaning your home, shopping for gold or kitchen utensils to bring good fortune, and decorating your home with lamps and rangoli, patterns made on the floor using colorful sand or powder. Those who observe Diwali also enjoy feasts, fireworks, visits from family and friends, and the sharing of gifts.
Introduce your kiddos to Diwali with the colorful board book Diwali (Celebrate the World).
Each autumn we gather with our friends and family and light our brightest lanterns. It’s time for Diwali, the festival of lights! In this lovely board book with illustrations from Archana Sreenivasan, readers learn that the five days of Diwali are a time to pray for a bountiful season, celebrate the special bonds between siblings, and rejoice in the victory of light over darkness and good over evil.
Also known as the Festival of Lights, this Jewish holiday commemorates the miracle of one day’s worth of oil lasting for eight days in the Holy Temple during the Maccabean Revolt. Each night during Hanukkah, Jews add a candle to the menorah, lighting them with the shamash, or helper candle.
Jewish families celebrate Hannukah by eating meals together, singing songs, spinning the dreidel, and giving presents. Some favorite Hanukkah foods include latkes (potato pancakes) and donuts.
Teach your children about the meaning of Hanukkah with this updated classic, Latkes and Applesauce.
The Menashes love latkes and applesauce during Hanukkah. But a blizzard begins and erases any hope that they’ll harvest potatoes and apples in time. When a stray cat and dog show up, there’s not a lot of food to offer them, but kindness prevails, and they’re invited in. It turns out that the dog—Latke—and the cat—Applesauce—save the day.
5. Las Posadas
Las Posadas (“The Inns”) is a remembrance of Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Mainly celebrated in Mexico and some parts of the United States, Las Posadas involves a nightly procession through town. Children and musicians dress up and stop at homes to ask for shelter for Mary and Joseph. Like in the Christmas story, lodging is refused. However, the homeowners usually provide refreshments to the procession.
Celebrants of Las Posadas attend Mass each night. Afterward, children break open piñatas shaped like the star that guided the wisemen. The piñatas are filled with toys, candy, and money. Traditionally, Las Posadas festivities involve eating tamales, buñuelos, pozole, and pambazo.
Tomie dePaola provides a beautiful introduction to this holiday through his book, The Night of Las Posadas.
Tomie dePaola’s glorious paintings are as luminous as the farolitos that light up on the Plaza in Santa Fe for the procession of Las Posadas, the tradition in which Mary and Joseph go from door to door seeking shelter at the inn on Christmas Eve. This year Sister Angie, who is always in charge of the celebration, has to stay home with the flu, and Lupe and Roberto, who are to play Mary and Joseph, get caught in a snowstorm. But a man and a woman no one knows arrive in time to take their place in the procession and then mysteriously disappear at the end before they can be thanked. That night we witness a Christian miracle, for when Sister Angie goes to the cathedral and kneels before the statue of Mary and Joseph, wet footprints from the snow lead up to the statue.
Kwanzaa is a seven-day African American and Pan-African festival celebrated from December 26 to January 1. Professor Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 as a way to celebrate African culture and values. Kwanzaa celebrations are based on African harvest festivals. Each day of the festival is dedicated to one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa:
- umoja (unity)
- kujichagulia (self-determination)
- ujima (collective responsibility)
- ujamaa (cooperative economics)
- nia (purpose)
- kuumba (creativity)
- imani (faith)
On each day of Kwanzaa, the family gathers to light a red, black, or green candle in the kinara (candleholder). They may decorate their homes with art, fresh fruit, and kente, a traditional African cloth. On December 31, the community comes together for a celebration called the Kamaru. People attending the Kamaru Feast might dress in traditional African clothing.
The book Together for Kwanzaa offers an informative introduction to Kwanzaa wrapped inside a sweet story about family.
Kwanzaa is Kayla’s favorite time of year. But this year, it looks as if a heavy snowstorm will keep her big brother, Khari, from getting home in time for the festivities! Will Khari miss the celebration completely? Or will Kayla and her brother somehow find a way to be together for Kwanzaa? A perfect introduction to Kwanzaa, this book will teach children all about the traditions and practices that make it a special winter holiday.
Soyal is the winter solstice festival of the Hopi people, who primarily live in northeastern Arizona. Celebrated on December 21, the shortest day of the year, Soyal includes ceremonies to call the sun back from its winter sleep. Prayer sticks called pahos are made, exchanged, and used to bless homes, animals, and plants. (3)
The Hopi perform rituals in kivas, private underground chambers, to call back the sun and honor the katsinam, who are guardian spirits for the Hopi. The Sun Ceremony is closed to the public and involves rituals to bring prosperity and blessings in the year ahead.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a children’s book specifically about Soyal. If you find one, please comment with the title! I would love to include it in this list. However, the book Lights of Winter: Winter Celebrations Around the World includes information about Soyal, as well as many other holidays on this list.
If you would like to read picture books about Hopi culture, please consider Celebrate My Hopi Corn and Celebrate My Hopi Toys. Both are by Anita Polealha, a Hopi language teacher and curriculum developer, as well as co-founder of Mesa Media.
8. Lunar New Year
The Lunar New Year aligns with the first full moon of the lunar calendar and is celebrated in China, Vietnam, Tibet, and other Asian countries. Celebrations vary by culture, but they may include lighting colorful lanterns, ancestor veneration, and a thorough house cleaning to remove any bad luck that could remain inside from the old year.
In China, favorite foods to eat on Lunar New Year include sweet rice balls, fish, dumplings, and niangao, a glutinous rice cake. In Vietnam, revelers eat braised pork with eggs, boiled chicken, and banh chung, a square sticky rice cake.
Follow a family celebrating the Lunar New Year in Chinese New Year Wishes.
It is Hong’s favorite time of the year. His whole family celebrates. It is the Chinese New Year. In this beautifully illustrated book, children aged 2 to 6 will follow Hong as he and his family prepare for and celebrate the Chinese New Year Festival. They will also enjoy reading the story behind the most important celebration in Chinese culture. More interesting facts and questions for discussion are included at the back of the book.
Which diverse holiday picture books are you planning to teach your children about this year? Share in the comments!